Interview with Slug Useless
A little over 25 years ago, my buddy Joel and I went to a gig that we still talk about today. Barely 16 years old, we hopped into my slick Dodge Caravan and headed for the Elk’s Lodge in Tucson, AZ. There were six or seven bands on the bill, but we were there to see local punk legends, Useless Pieces of Shit (simply known as U.P.S.). I’d like to say that we also witnessed legendary punk bands, Opinion Zero, Jodie Foster’s Army (J.F.A.) and True Sounds Of Liberty (T.S.O.L.) that night, but don’t recall. U.P.S. is the reason we went.
Like most punk shows of the day, the bands would churn out some 50 songs in 30 minutes while the kids were skanking to the beat. There were plenty of mohawks, spiked leather jackets, combat boots, tattoos and piercings, dyed hair and more. More importantly, there was unity. To outsiders, the bands and fans were “weird” or “bad” or “noisy”, but inside was camaraderie amongst the chaos.
After the show, Joel and I went through one of those drive-thru liquor stores and were (surprisingly) served a couple of 40s. [We were half a decade away from being legal!]. Back at my house we quaffed the alcohol and wrote a bunch of new songs, inspired by the show we had witnessed earlier…ah, the good ol’ days!
Fast-forward to summer 2012. Joel and I (both now living in Seattle, WA) met up for some beers and good conversation. One thing that came up was that infamous Elk’s Lodge punk show and the impact it had on us. Joel and I said our goodbyes and I didn’t think about that show again. But that November, I read Mark [October 2011 Fan of the Month] Poirier’s book, Modern Ranch Living. In it, he mentions U.P.S. It was then that I decided that I had to find out what happened to the band.
The interwebs are pretty cool and you can find out a lot of useful information, even if it’s about Useless Pieces of Shit! I plugged that into my favorite search engine and voilà, I got more than I bargained for…but isn’t that really the way it goes almost every time?! So, long story short, U.P.S. guitarist, Slug Useless, moved to Seattle in 1989 and started Disillusion Music Label and has been grinding there ever since. I dropped Slug a line and he graciously accepted my offer for an interview…it is with great pleasure that I introduce you to U.P.S. guitarist and head honcho of Disillusion Music Label, Slug Useless!
One Louder Magazine: Hi Slug! Useless Pieces of Shit…awesome, memorable band name. Do you recall how you guys decided on that name?
Slug Useless: First, let me say thanks for the chance to do this interview with One Louder Magazine. It really means a lot, especially after 30 years have passed since U.P.S. played our first gig. The name? Well, we were in a band before U.P.S. called the Corporate Whores because the drummer – Duck Sticks – and I worked at a useless, demanding, laboring job for a very large corporation. (Duck Sticks later became U.P.S.’s bassist and went by the name Dr. Blood after that.) We busted our butts all day in the desert sun only to end up getting laid off. We were their Whores! After the Corporate Whores broke up, we started Useless Pieces of Shit with Larvae E. Kudish (Lenny Mellow) on vocals, Sludge (Matt Griffin) on bass, Duck Sticks (Phil Pratt) on drums, and me on guitar. (Matt, Phil and I were in C.W. together.) At the time, none of us had jobs and we certainly didn’t have any plans to get one anytime soon. We were the Corporate Whores before, but now we were Useless Pieces of Shit!
OLM: U.P.S. formed in September 1983 and played their first show two months later. Were you ready?
SU: For the most part, yes. The original U.P.S. line up was basically the Corporate Whores with a new singer, Larvae. We did some of the same songs with new ones added in. Sludge, Duck Sticks and I had been playing together for a long time so we were pretty tight. It was some time before we did our second gig, though, because we added a second guitarist – Paul ‘Shitbird’ Young – and a bunch of new songs. We got it together pretty fast, though, because all we did all day – not in any particular order – was make music, practice playing music, and smoke lots of pot while listening to music. Besides it was punk rock, man! It wasn’t just about how tight you were…it was about raw energy and rage. It was about the experience of seeing your stage show and pushing the limits. We always tried to impress or offend.
OLM: Who would you say were your main influences during that time? Are you still a fan of those bands today?
SU: Of course, like most punks of the day, we went and saw The Decline of Western Civilization (the punk one) and came out of the movie with big plans to start the baddest, meanest, hardcore punk rock band in the world. Then when I heard the first Dead Kennedys album in 1980, I was blown away by the music and the sound that they had come up with in the studio. The lyrics were smart and well thought out and I had never heard anything like them before. Then Hüsker Dü came to town on their first tour and played fast, short songs and never stopped between for talking or storytelling. They couldn’t care less about the fact that so few people had come out for the show. They just shredded the stage with a non-stop sonic wall of mayhem…all from just a three piece band. When we saw that, we knew that was the kind of music we wanted to play and that was the kind of band we wanted to be. At that time, we started the Corporate Whores and after that U.P.S. was born. I’m still a fan of both bands and of the movie.
OLM: What was the Tucson punk scene like in the ‘80s?
SU: I arrived on the Tucson scene in 1981. I had just moved to Tucson to escape the cold winters in the northeast in the fall of ’80 and had met Dr. Blood at my job at a heavy equipment lot. The first show I went to in Tucson was Black Flag at the Backstage. At that time, the rock, metal and punk rock music scenes in Tucson revolved around two clubs on Fourth Avenue: The Backstage and the Night Train. Night Train was the rock and metal club. The Backstage was the punk rock club and all of the touring bands would stop and play shows when traveling through the Southwestern U.S. The Backstage was a rundown transient bar, but the owner let punk bands play there on a regular basis. A punk rock club with a bar was the place to be and it was the total punk scene at the time. It had the baddest dance floor I was ever on. The crowds were small, but it was a total fucking mosh with bones breaking and bloody noses. The weird part was that it was also very safe. Lots of women and small people were in the pits back then and it was safe. If you didn’t want to hit or get hit hard you could still dance. I guess there was an unwritten code of conduct on the floor back then. I saw many great bands there: Black Flag, JFA [Jodie Foster’s Army], Circle Jerks, TSOL [True Sounds of Liberty], The Misfits, Hüsker Dü and Butthole Surfers to name just a few. There were also lots of shows with just Tucson bands or bands from Phoenix. Another great thing about the Backstage was that anyone could put on a show there as long as there was an open date. You got all of the door admissions and the bar got the rest of what was made that night. It was a great place and we even started putting on our own shows. Before too long it all came to an end one evening in the winter of 1982-83. The Backstage caught fire one night after closing and the damage was so bad that the club closed its doors for good. Everyone in the scene was devastated by the news and the Tucson punk rock music scene was declared dead. Most of the bands broke up and everyone went on their separate ways.
We, however, saw things completely different. This was an opportunity to rebuild it all into a new, better scene, with more local bands and people. After a summer of turmoil and bands switching members back and forth, a new club opened on Congress Street called The Dangerzone. It was run by Chris Olivas who later ran The Wrex. (I’ll get into that later.) The Dangerzone was a shotgun store front with a big stage and plenty of room for the crowd. It was a cool club, but after a few shows it was closed down and the search for show venues continued. None of the bars in Tucson would let punk rock bands play. There was a club called Nino’s that let out-of-town bands play, but only “punk rock light” bands. We used to call it the “Slurpee-core” scene. It was a very successful scene that created many local bands.
There was also another bar called The Stumble Inn that put on shows for a short while. It was a rundown cowboy bar, but it was big and had a big stage. Many great bands played there: Suicidal Tendencies, The Dicks and Crucifucks to name a few. The problem was that they weren’t very good to local bands. We were looking for a place to have touring and local hardcore punk rock bands play and not have all the money go into the pockets of some bar owner. We also wanted to have all-ages shows. The answer was to start our own organization which was called T.H.C. – Tucson Hardcore. At first, T.H.C. was just Paul Young and myself. I would stuff my mohawk under a cap and Paul would do the same with his long hair. We would go to all the local halls and ask to be able to put on “youth dances for the kids.” So we put on shows at joints like the Knight of Pythias hall, the Unitarian Church, the Bridge Club, and even a couple of bars that were going out of business and were desperate for any money they could get…even from punks! Of course, we got kicked out of each venue one by one; some for legit reasons, some not. Another problem was that there weren’t enough punks in Tucson to support a music scene, so we went on a recruiting mission at all of the local schools and bars preaching the hardcore punk rock message.
The scene had an influx of new people from all walks of life and we all got along and had some great times. New scenes are always the best because no one is putting on an act and it’s all real. There was a real sense of unity in the new scene that the old Backstage days never really had. This all lead to a bunch of new local bands and the opening of a new venue: the Wrex nightclub. The Wrex was a huge warehouse with a record store connected to it. It was a great space that had many notable shows. The best thing was that there was no security or police. We all just self-policed the shows which worked for the most part. However, each of the shows got bigger and bigger and more and more problems started happening at each show. The Wrex closed after just a few months because the landlord kicked them out for having too many gigs. The record store stayed open for many years after that at a different location near the University of Arizona. It became the center of the scene and was run by Joe E. Furno, who struggled for many years to keep it open. It was the pipeline to what was new and happening in the world wide music scene. After the Wrex nightclub closed, it became very hard to get venues for shows. The scene turned to having house parties, which, of course, the police would usually break up for no reason. There were a couple of houses on Speedway next to Greasy Tony’s that held shows there on a regular basis. The house party shows were fun, but too small, and the Tucson Police loved to break them up. There were more shows at bars, occasionally, but that was pretty much the scene until I left and moved to Seattle. After I left, I heard that more venues opened up and now I think there are several places that have regular punk rock shows.
OLM: Can you share some stories of the more memorable (good and bad) shows?
SU: There were so many and my memory is so bad! I remember that whenever Black Flag or the Circle Jerks came to the Backstage it would be insane on the dance floor and so much fun. It was always hard to see them at other venues after that because the shows were not the same energy or as intimate as those early years. The Corporate Whores always had to play first on the bills at the Backstage. We’d be scheduled to play at 9:00 p.m. when no one was at the show yet, so we would always show up late. We’d stay at home and watch The Love Boat or Fantasy Island on TV before each gig and then come stumbling in to play after 10:00 p.m. The promoter would be so pissed, but we would act like we were a bunch of stoned morons that couldn’t tell time and we’d be forgiven. Now that I think of it, I think we always showed up late to play shows in Tucson.
There was the famous U.P.S. show at the University of Arizona cellar’s “Eat to the Beat” where we became the first band ever to be banned from the U of A campus because a punk rock dance floor was too scary for the administration. “Eat to the Beat” was a lunch time concert series the University had in the basement of the student union every weekday. They claimed there was a food riot at our show and that furniture was moved. They stated that none of their students were into that noise and that it was all outside, off-campus people at the show even though they had a regular schedule of punk bands playing at “Eat to the Beat.” We got lots of free press out of it and it made us famous in Tucson. The downside was that it gave us an untrue reputation as club wreckers that made getting shows in Tucson after that nearly impossible.
OLM: After six years together the band called it a day and you moved to Seattle, WA. That was in June 1989. What lead to U.P.S.’s demise? Any regrets?
SU: I guess we just got burnt out. It was always hard for U.P.S. to get shows in Arizona – we couldn’t even get a show in the state of Arizona on our second tour – and we never made any money except for our T-shirts, cassettes, and record sales. We went on two U.S. tours with no vinyl, booking agent or record deal. We booked all of the shows ourselves – most while we were out on the road – and we were lucky if we made gas money to get us to the next show. Also, it is very difficult to keep four or five people all on the same wavelength. We had several lineup changes: three singers, three drummers, lost a guitar player. I think the hardest part about being in a band is to keep it from breaking up. After the second U.S. tour, we all just kind of went our separate ways. I made the end final by moving away to Seattle.
I do have regrets. We had some cool plans in the works. The plan was that we were going to record three different 7 inch singles – we did two of them but only released one – and release each one separately as a 7 inch. And then when they were done, combine them onto a single 12 inch EP. After that, we were going to relocate to Morgantown, West Virginia for the summer and tour heavily throughout the east coast selling our EP and other goodies. In the fall, we were going to go on a European tour with MDC [Millions of Dead Cops]. I regret never getting to go on that tour. However, looking back I wouldn’t change anything, although I do miss jamming everyday with the Useless boys.
OLM: Why Seattle?
SU: I wanted to move to a city on the west coast and get out of the desert heat…but not to anywhere in California. That basically left Portland or Seattle. My sister already lived in Seattle, so I moved here. I do miss the sun and warmth, though, but I have had many new adventures in Seattle that I would have never seen or experienced in Tucson, including meeting my wife.
OLM: Did you hang up the guitar at that point or did you play in bands in (and around) the Seattle area? How about today…still playing today?
SU: I have never stopped making music or playing guitar and I have had a couple of attempts at starting bands in Seattle, but none of them worked out. I haven’t played out since leaving U.P.S., but I’m still at it today. My new stuff I do under the alias “Art Vandal” and I have two CDs released on the Disillusion Music Label and a third on the way. It’s pretty different than U.P.S., but it still has a raw edge to it. I’m also involved in an industrial noise band called “BrainDead” which also has several releases on Disillusion. I have been working on a project with my old U.P.S. band mate, Dumpy Pieces, called “Be Nice to That Guitar” which is a band that we had together back in Tucson. If you want to check out samples of what I have been doing, just go to Bandcamp or SoundCloud and do a search for Art Vandal, BrainDead, Be Nice to That Guitar, Useless Pieces of Shit, or the Corporate Whores.
OLM: Do you ever get nostalgic and crank up all those old U.P.S. albums and “relive” the glory days?
SU: Sure I do! I just finished re-mastering all of the U.P.S. material into six current CD releases. It includes a four-part punk rock opera called “VOICE.” It was the last project that U.P.S. worked on together. I have also been working on a radio drama called “The Chicken Saga” that we worked on in the summer of 1988. I’m making it into a podcast that I’ll be releasing soon. So, as you can see, I’m not done polishing this turd!
OLM: What advice do you have for someone starting up a punk band? What are some things to strive for and what things should they avoid like the plague?
SU: Well, I think it’s pretty much the same for all bands no matter what kind of music you play. You have to love the songs, sounds, and your band mates…or at least get along well enough so you don’t kill each other! Then you have to practice until your fingers bleed and then practice some more. Come up with something that will make you stand out from the crowd…but watch out, it can come back to haunt you. If someone offers you a deal that sounds too good to be true, then it is. The more control you keep as a group over everything, the more money you will make in the long run and the more creative freedom you will have. Nowadays, it’s all about e-mail marketing to your fans. Be nice to your band mates and have a blast!
OLM: For readers unfamiliar with the band, where would you suggest they start and why?
SU: The first place they could start is my YouTube page. I have a bunch of videos uploaded that they could check out. If they still want more they can go to www.UselessPiecesofShit.com to listen to or buy any CD. Ugly In Public is a sample of the Larvae era, Stupid Punk CD the Sleepy era, and Fuck Shit Up, It Is Written, and Live at the Elk’s Lodge are with Dumpy. If you still want more, there is a four-part punk rock opera U.P.S. did as their last project called “VOICE”. They could also check out the Corporate Whores CDs available at www.DisillusionMusicLabel.com. You can preview all of the songs at Bandcamp. Just search for Disillusion Music Label.
OLM: Your move to Seattle aligned at the same time that the “grunge scene” was on the rise. What do you remember most from that time? Were/are you a fan of grunge or do you bleed punk?
SU: The grunge thing was weird. If you were in a grunge band, you were cool regardless of what your band sounded like. Bands that were basically less than a month old were getting interviews in Rolling Stone. The dam had been broken that the record labels and radio stations had put up and people went crazy for new music. I’m pro music and musicians, so the more the merrier. It was a very exciting time in music and a great time to be in a band in Seattle. I like some of the bands from that era and I thought it was really cool that bands were getting paid shows on a regular basis and getting played on the radio. (I have never been in a band that made money). I didn’t get involved too much in the grunge scene. I’m still a hardcore punk rock man and I just have to break all the rules just because…
OLM: Today you run Disillusion Music Label which you revived from U.P.S.’s old label, Disillusion Records. How did that happen?
SU: Well I’ve had these old U.P.S. reel-to-reel tapes that I had been carrying around since I left Tucson that I could never listen to because I didn’t have the correct machine to play them on. In 2008, I decided that I was going to digitize them so I could hear them again. Now I won’t go into the long drawn out process that I had to go through to get that done, but after listening to the old recordings, I was really impressed with what I was hearing. I started digitizing all of the other tapes that I had and I started to get quite a collection of music. At that point I realized that it had been 25 years since U.P.S. started and decided that I had to put together a U.P.S. 25th Anniversary Box Set. The Box Set included a CD of the complete works of Useless Pieces of Shit, a DVD of U.P.S. videos and photos, a comic book, a book of art, and four small posters. The Box Set sold out quickly and I started to put together other releases from Opinion Zero, the Corporate Whores, BrainDead, Johny Now, El Diablo en Musica, Art Vandal…and Disillusion Music Label was born.
OLM: What’s your role with the label? What do you do?
SU: Well, I kind of feel like a punk rock historian. All of this U.P.S. stuff was lost. I found it all and gave it the light of day. I feel that there are many bands like U.P.S. out there that have been lost to time. By putting this stuff out on CD and posting it on the internet it will be a part of permanent history for all to see. Kids need to know that the 80s punk rock scene was more than Minor Threat, Black Flag, Motörhead, and Metallica. My goal is to save as much of this lost music as I can. There were too many cool bands that should be heard by all. If anyone has old tapes that they want to share, let me know and we’ll see what we can do.
OLM: Is Disillusion distribution only or do you do any new recordings?
SU: I do it all. New releases, reissues of older stuff, industrial noise, techno, metal, punk, you name it. I’m slowly building up my catalog and I’m always interested in helping any new talent. I can’t promise any big payouts, but if bands want to get their stuff out, I can help with that.
OLM: How do you choose what bands are on the Disillusion label? Do you entertain offers from local (national and/or international) bands?
SU: So far, I have to admit it’s all been a little self-serving. Most of the bands that I’m working with are bands that I was in or are currently involved with. I’m always open to any interest from other bands, but I had to start somewhere so I did it with the material that I had on hand.
OLM: Is Disillusion a one-man gig or do you have a support team?
SU: My support team is me, myself, and I, haha! I do it all. I have a small recording studio that I use to record with, including mixing and engineering, as well as mastering of the final CDs. I do all of the cover and art design for each release, the manufacturing, packaging, shipping, sales, marketing, etc. I do occasionally get help from my wife and friends. I also sometimes get artists I know to give me free art. I hope that in the future – as Disillusion grows – I’ll be able hire staff and even farm out some of the manufacturing.
OLM: What does a typical day look like for you?
SU: Well I wake up, take a piss, drink some coffee, smoke a cigarette, get blown, take a shit, drink more coffee, smoke a cigarette, get blown! Watch T.V., eat something, smoke a cigarette, get blown, get drunk, fuck someone, smoke a cigarette, get blown, get blown! (Lyrics from the U.P.S. song – Wake Up)
OLM: Sounds like a typical day for me, too, haha! What is your favorite part of the job? What is your least favorite part of the job?
SU: I love working on the music the most. There’s nothing like laying down that bad ass track, getting that mix to sound like it’s got balls, or mastering some final tracks into a final CD release. I also love doing the art and graphic design for the cover art, but I wouldn’t mind if someone else took over that role. My least favorite part is the marketing, in part because I don’t know what the fuck I am doing. The music business has changed drastically in the last few years and CD sales have tanked. I had to learn a whole new way of promoting and selling music. It’s a brave new world, but I feel the future looks bright.
OLM: What are some of your hobbies? What do you like to do when not working?
SU: Well, I love to play my guitar and bass, but I also love to do digital photography. I have even been in a couple of art shows. My photos are mainly black and white with an industrial feel. My wife and I like to go hiking in the mountains and bicycling. I still love going out and seeing live music, but I don’t do it as much as I used to.
OLM: The desert island question: if you were stranded on a desert island and could take the collected works of five artists, who would the five be?
SU: Crucifucks, Neu, the Residents, DEVO and Black Flag. Ask me the same question tomorrow and I’ll give you the names of five different bands.
OLM: Who are your guilty listening pleasures?
SU: I do find myself listening to a lot of bands from the 1970s lately. I’m listening to Little Feat while I do this interview. I also love to listen to old funk and blues.
OLM: How can people find out more information about you and everything you’ve done (and are doing)?
SU: If you want to receive regular news about bands on the Disillusion Music Label and get deals on new releases, you should get on the mailing list by shooting me an e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org. For the subject line write “New E-mail Subscription”.
OLM: Last question. Your name isn’t really Slug Useless…so what is it?!
SU: My real name is off limits! Just kidding, it’s Dennis McKeown, but no one will know who that is. Most people only know me as Slug.