Dog Lady Interview 2011-2012
Why do you think all the Michigan skaters got into such gnarly music? Maybe it's a different generation, but when I was skating a lot there wasn't a lot of skate punk/hardcore going on in skateboarding. I guess we had Toy Machine or Alien Workshop videos with Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth and we listened to punk and hardcore, but not many skaters that I knew were into all that, let alone anything like Wolf Eyes or any kind of Art Damaged jams.
Wow, first I’d distinguish between Wolf Eyes and Sick Llama, on the one hand, and me paddling my little raft out relatively recently. Those guys were barging from the start. But yeah, back in the early ‘90s, I was living in Monroe and skateboarding all the time, meeting up with my Ann Arbor friend Joe, and we’d shred with Nate and Heath from time to time. That’s basically how we met. Ann Arbor had good curbs and ledges and a sick mini ramp in the rafters of this barn. Then, when I moved into the Jaks house in Ann Arbor, maybe mid-'90s, that’s when I had my mind blown: Galen, Couch, Isis & Werewolves, Nautical Almanac. Dilloway had a Hanson box set up on the counter at Encore Records, but to be honest, I had no idea what was up. Noise was never the soundtrack to skateboarding for me, either. It was a Birthday Party/Bauhaus/Joy Division zone for me. But flash forward a decade--I had returned to Michigan after living in Denver for six years. I drove over to see Nate and Steve Kenney play at the Bohemian National Home in Detroit, and we caught up after the show. Heavy shred sessions followed, and then Nate invited me over to the Wolf studio to add a violin track to “Cellar” [first track on Always Wrong]. What an honor, you know? And then we recorded the Dog Lady Regression CD-lathe on AA Records. And that’s when it began for me. None of that would’ve happened for me without skateboarding. And same goes for Dog Lady—we were killing brews on his porch in Detroit, and he basically talked me out of my stage fright and reluctance. He gave me these old Radio Shack manuals and taught me how to read resistors and capacitors and all of that and pointed me towards some Electronics 101 type of stuff to get me started. Hell, the whole thing where I play my violin through a reel-to-reel on the floor—it was during a Waste Ground practice that Nate suggested using a kick pedal to warble the tape, instead of my foot. I owe that guy a lot. When I think about all of that happening, I’m so grateful. No doubt, I owe what I’m doing musically to my friends, and I owe my friends to skateboarding.
Did you skate at any Violent Ramp shows? Or do you remember anything particularly nuts going on at those shows. I've seen that video online of the New Years Eve show that got them banned from The Elbow Room. Were people skating at all the shows?
I lived in Colorado during that time. I heard about those shows, though, and thought it was completely sick. I remember when the Strange Notes cassette came out on Fag Tapes. I was psyched on that title.
How many of the Michigan noise people still skate? I heard a lot of tours are based around visiting skateparks. What are some of your favorite spots on the road? What do you skate out in Cincinnati?
We’ll always be skateboarders. When I’m super old, I know I won’t be able to step up a curb or walk down a flight of stairs or hold a handrail without thinking about my skateboard. My first Dog Lady tour was with Nate, Heath and Olson, I think. We basically skated the places we played. We propped a door against the wall at Bunk Spot in Cincinnati, and Heath shredded it. We played Void Skate Shop in Lexington and skated the mini they used to have. I broke my wrist the next day at this homemade quarter pipe spot down the street. Troutman is another ripper. When I went out with Weirding Module, I saw him kickflip wallride a bank-to-wall in Cleveland. I also met the Neckhold brothers in Cleveland and played a game of S-K-A-T-E with them before I realized who they were.
Who shreds the hardest?
Do you still follow skating or pay attention to magazines or videos or anything?
The Andrew Reynolds outtakes from Stay Gold are sick. The Cardiel documentary on Epic’ly Latered was something else. I still pick up Thrasher regularly, but otherwise I don’t check the magazines too much. Mostly I hang with old VHS tapes. Classics. Plus the Girl/Chocolate output and the Baker and Deathwish videos. Barrier Kult is sick. I don’t want to check it out unless it has spirit, you know? Paulo Diaz or Gino Iannucci. Guy Mariano. Mark Gonzales. Gonz is the ruler.
It seems like in the last several years, ambient and new age-y synth jammer stuff has sort of taken over experimental music. Like all the NNA stuff and Spencer Yeh even has that straight up pop 7". Are you into any of that stuff? Would you say the Michigan stuff is generally a bit harsher?
Mostly, no, I'm not really into that stuff. The last thing I ever want to hear is an arpeggio. But the two examples you mention are exceptional. NNA is a killer label, and they've actually supported the Michigan crew with a few releases. The Head Boggle cassette on NNA is top-notch, too. And normally I don't go for drone--I'm too impatient, and there's something frustrating and calming about it--but with Spencer Yeh, the ambient/drone aspects of his jams usually act as ground to some sort of wired, nasty, agitated figure. In other words, the dull ambient is there in many cases to brighten or sharpen the unpredictable and scattershot sample attacks. I haven't checked the pop 7" specifically, but I've never been unhappy with any of my Spencer tapes. But yeah, I generally go for something, not 'harsher' exactly, but maybe 'gritty' or 'depraved' or 'claustrophobic' or something. Or maybe it's OK to say 'harsh.' Like with Spencer, his work on Gods of Tundra is the go-to. It's totally Michigan. It's amazing and uncomfortable. That's harsh, right? I guess I would say that Michigan stuff is generally a bit harsher, but we're not talking about a harsh party or HNW or pedal-chain harshness or whatnot. It's more like 'quiet assassin' harsh. Like, take Evenings or Failing Lights, for example--those guys know how to shoot out the light bulb in your skull.
You've also got another project with Sam Hooker (of Tar Pit), called Bile and Horseman. How do you approach that differently than Dog Lady? Do you have any preference in terms of flying solo or collaborating?
Sam rules. He's super young, and he's a listener, and he's methodical and honest. To me, the danger in any collaboration is that more can be more, and that begins to feel dishonest. But we're not really concerned with more or fullness or any sort of layered composition. The concern is with lessness, like in the Samuel Beckett sense. I don't know if I have a preference exactly, because Dog Lady serves a certain purpose, too. I can be pretty avoidant and agoraphobic and whatnot, and Dog Lady is there for me. But I need to get out of my own head sometimes, and it's amazing to fire it up and hear something coming back at you in a Tar Pit style. Dog Lady is about lessness, I mean the project is named after this lady that lived alone in the woods on an island off of Dunbar Road. But where my solo project is concerned with less, the duo is concerned with even less, if that makes sense. Bile and Horseman is basically guitar and violin. Sam brings new and crazy field recordings--tapping an aluminum can, a coin spinning on the wood floor, or a shelf collapsing, who knows?--and I'll add homemade "Lost in Space" electronics, so what you've got when you put it together is a contraption buried in tedium or ghostliness or malaise or something, more space and suspense than anything else, and I guess that sounds horrible, but it's not horrible to us. We just finished a new tape, and I told Sam it sounds like a vacated control room. I don't know what to call it. It's like the opposite of overdubbing. And many people might not be happy with that, but it's this after-the-fact absence that, for whatever reason, is really satisfying. It's a sense of correspondence or something, like when you know that what you're doing is what you see and hear and live and that it's all nothing.
Dang I had no idea about the back story behind the name Dog Lady. So pretty much after her husband died and house burned down, she lived with a pack of wild dogs and slept in a coffin?
I don't think she slept in that coffin. There was a dirt path leading to Dog Lady Island, and there was a concrete casket placed along the side. It was engraved with a broken cross. It was left there by a biker gang that used to party on the island. I don't think she slept in it. Rather, she had fashioned an enormous birds nest object out of trash and branches, and I think she stayed there mostly. From time to time, you could see smoke rising from that side of the island. Presumably she was cooking or trying to get warm. As you can imagine, she was pretty lost and angry, and she was brown from dirt, and kids would heckle her and she'd grunt or growl or snarl back at them, so the people had taken to calling her Dog Lady.
Does that story have any relevance to your music other than just paying homage with the name? She wasn't accepted. She was noise.
So when you say "when you know that what you're doing is what you see and hear and live and that it's all nothing," the less-ness is a metaphor or reaction to life itself?
It relates to health or correspondence or something. When I think of health, I think, basically, that there isn't this enormous gap between being and doing. Just very simply, what you do is who you are. The more often you can say that, the better. And suffering is when being and doing are at odds. I'm 37 years old, and you can certainly trace a thread of loss and absence, so composing music that matches that is satisfying on some level. Correspondence. It's taking something very ugly--banishment or dissension, again a lot of what Dog Lady Island represents to me--and giving it some form, or even when the form is stripped away, at least some expression, or expression is the wrong word, and not content exactly either, not meaning or form. You're minus those things. You reach a point where it's nothing.