BY BRYAN BIERMAN Let’s start by saying this: Pere Ubu’s The Modern Dance is the greatest album ever made. Possibly. Released in 1978, the band took only the great parts of punk rock then shuffled it around, adding musique concrete tape noise and free-jazz sax solos. It was the perfect blend of rock ‘n’ roll and avant-garde—you don’t fully understand it at first, but it still makes you want to head into the garage and try your hand at emulating it. ??But by the time of its release, lead singer David Thomas had already inspired a legion of bands in Cleveland with the short-lived Rocket From The Tombs, who took the incendiary madness of The Stooges to its next logical step. The band soon imploded in ’75 before ever recording a proper album and its members split up into two factions, forming Dead Boys and Pere Ubu, both of which became successful in their own right. Over the years, the small amount of Rocket’s recorded material was bootlegged, giving the band its proper legendary status. In 2003, Thomas and the original members reunited, finally recorded a debut album with new drummer Steve Mehlman and Television’s Richard Lloyd replacing the late Peter Laughner. ??In advance of their show on Sunday at Kung Fu Necktie, we corresponded with Thomas through e-mail about the new album, why musicians should quit the biz and how he isn’t crazy about being touched.
PHAWKER: Rocket lasted one year – from summer of 1974 to summer of ’75 – why did you break up?
DAVID THOMAS: Youthful stoopidity aggravated by drug and alcohol abuse.
PHAWKER: How did you come up with the name and what was it supposed to mean?
DAVID THOMAS: When I was in high school, my buddy and me made a stop-action film inspired by Frank Zappa, I suppose, called The Day The Earth Met The Rocket From The Tombs. I have no idea how it came to be, a reference I suppose to Plan 9 From Outer Space or some such thing. It doesn’t MEAN anything! Seemed like a good idea for a band name when it came time. I don’t really remember. Maybe I thought it was good because it DIDN’T mean anything.
PHAWKER: What did you make of a band calling itself Rocket From The Crypt – flattered or irked? Ever see them live or have any contact with them?
DAVID THOMAS: Never met them. Never actually heard them, that I am aware of. I didn’t really think anything. Sorry. Just didn’t impact on me at all.
PHAWKER: When RFFT reunited in 2003, you guys were way more spectacular than most people expected. Did this surprise you at all? Were you at all nervous at first that it might not work out?
DAVID THOMAS: It didn’t surprise me. Didn’t make me nervous. I don’t get nervous. We didn’t actually all get together ‘til we got out to LA for the show. Wasn’t time to get nervous or worried. It had to work. It worked. Taking those kind of chances is second nature to me.
PHAWKER: The first studio album, Rocket Redux in 2004, was made up of songs written over 30 years ago; Barfly is all new material. What was the writing process like? Did it feel any different than it did in 1975?
DAVID THOMAS: The “new” RFTT felt like the old one from the moment we started rehearsing. Same personality blend. Same conflicts. Same intense raw sound. It felt like no time had passed. Writing was pretty much the same. Somebody brings an idea in and we work it around.
PHAWKER: A lot of reunited bands try to write songs like they would when they were in their 20s. Barfly doesn’t feel like that, and that’s a good thing. Was there a conscious effort not to do that?
DAVID THOMAS: There was a conscious realization that we weren’t going to be able to do that, that the only way to do it was to write today rather than yesterday. But it simply wasn’t an option; we are incapable of pretending to be something we’re not.
PHAWKER: In other interviews, you’ve advised people to stay away from being in a rock band and how it’s a life of constant disappointment. Is there any upside? If you had to do over, what career would you pick instead of artsy rock guy and why?
DAVID THOMAS: I advise musicians to quit, is the actual quote. You have paraphrased it in a different way. No biggie. The upside is when you create some moment that is special and clear. I would like to have worked for the IRS or in an office supplies superstore.
PHAWKER: When you play live, you must be inundated with people who worship your work and think of you as a genius (I’m one of these people). Is this scary? Would you especially advise these folks not to join a rock band? And also not to touch you?
DAVID THOMAS: I appreciate that people find what I have done to be worth the price of admission. I appreciate that they have chosen to invest the piece of their life it took to earn the money for the ticket in my/our work and that they consider the transaction to be good. It’s not scary. I don’t really care about the audience. They are there to watch me do what I do. That is their function. I am gonna do what I do whether there is 1000 people or two guys and a dog. I don’t advise people. The answer you refer to is just a quick amusing way of getting people not to pester me about it. I don’t like being touched by strangers in an OVERLY familiar way. It’s a little presumptuous is all.
PHAWKER: What’s the last record to blow your mind?
DAVID THOMAS: No idea. A Jackie Leven record probably.
PHAWKER: On Pere Ubu’s website, you’re posting the demos of the new album in progress. What was the idea behind this? Was it something just for diehard fans? Do you think it’ll take away from the music or disintegrate the mysticism of rock n roll?
DAVID THOMAS: People often ask how records get written, how they come together. The internet provides a way of answering this. I thought it might be interesting for people to have the opportunity to watch as the record grows from the beginning. That’s all. Not a complicated idea.
PHAWKER: Do you plan to tour with Pere Ubu after the album is released? And could you come to Philly?
DAVID THOMAS: Sure. And we could come to Philly if someone pays us!