Shannon Selberg - 2002

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Shannon Selberg is the lead singer and lyricist of The Heroine Sheiks, a really creative NYC rock band that just released your second full-length CD, the ExCeLlEnT Siamese Pipe (named after those pipes that come out of the ground out into two different directions here in New York on the Streets of San Francisco). But YOU may know Shannon Selberg from his previous career as the lead singer and lyricist of The Cows, a noisy (amazing) Minneapolis rock band that released nine fantastic full-length LPs before the guitarist quit to pursue an exciting career standing around in an art museum (or so I just made up). Shannon decided to take some busy time out of his free day to conduct an interview on all topics important at this time. I am in bold, Shannon is in pinstripe.


Shannon's Answering Machine: Hi there! Leave a message!

Shannon: Hello?



Hey! This is Mark Prindle. Were you asleep?

No no. Did you just call?

Yeah, but I didn't leave a message. I thought I might be calling too early.

Nah, it was a little after 8.

Are you free?

Actually, I kinda wanna watch the President's speech. See what kinda bullshit he has to say. It should be over pretty soon though, I think.

Okay, should I call -

Your number's XXX-XXXX, right?

In area code (XXX)!

Okay, I'll call you back.

Will do!

(5000 hours pass)

My Phone: Ring! You have a telephone call, Mr. Prindle! Ring very much indeed!


Could I speak to Mark..Prindle, please?

You sure can!

Great! Put him on!

So what did our President George W. Bush have to say?

Oh that uh you better listen, United Nations or else! But they haven't made a decision yet, and if they don't, there won't BE a United Nations! And we're doing this for the good of the civilized world! He doesn't want war, but by golly they're gonna get it. Because Saddam COULD have a nuclear bomb and he MIGHT use it. It's basically just like the cover of "Peacetika." We have to make war to make peace. Congress approved my right to do what I want! That doesn't mean I'm gonna go to war, but it doesn't mean I'm NOT gonna go to war either. I haven't decided yet. But if the UN doesn't let us go to war, they're out of business. Oh hang on I got -


(6 days pass)


Do you have to go? Is that somebody important?

Ah there IS no more important phone call than this one.


So are we rolling now or what?

Sure! Why not?

I mean, are you taping this? Or -

No, I'll type really fast if you talk really slow. Then I'll email it to you so you can correct anything I got wrong.

Oh! Okay.

Then let me start reading down my list of questions. Or do you want to talk about the new album first?

Whatever you want.

My questions are in chronological order so -

Is that the order you came up with them?

No no! I reordered them.

See, you seemed like the kind of guy who would...

Half-ass everything?

Work HARD at being half-assed. You're good at it.

Hey, thanks! Did you see that I interviewed Buzz - King Buzzo?


Yeah, it's brand new. He said nothing but good things about working with you guys.

He's always good for a good quote.

And he said he would never have broken the Cows up. He wouldn't have allowed it to happen.

He what? What did he have to do with it?

Well, I kinda blamed him for it.

Oh. No, he didn't.. The decision was made. We tried to pass some U.N. resolutions, but uhh. It's irrelevant.

Okay, I'll go ahead and start my questions. This first one sounds pretty stupid - I didn't phrase it very well. But just IMAGINE it phrased really well. Have you always been the creative type? Did you write a lot growing up? Or draw?

Yeah, I was always kind of the creative type. My relatives all thought I was gay. They'd say, "Shannon doesn't play sports so much - he's `artistic.'

Did you write a lot?

I used to draw a lot. And the local neighborhood jocks and bullies always tried to beat me up.

They'd beat you up? Really?

Oh yeah! I've got a girl's name, for Chrissake! I got picked on everywhere. I went to all kinds of new schools and guys would walk up to me - "Hey man, I'm Bill. This is Jim. And over here is Scott. What's your name?" "Shannon." "Oh." BAM BAM BAM! And then sometimes the teacher would take attendance on the first day of school and she'd get to my name and go, "Sharon Selberg?" Uhhh no, it's Shannon. I know it's not much better, but that's what it is.

Were you looking to form a band when the Cows started? Or were they friends of yours first?

No, The Cows were actually already a band. Those guys all worked at a home for retarded children. They would play Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween - things like that. Then finally they got a real gig at a real bar. Norm Rogers was original singer, actually.

Are you serious? (editors' note: Norm Rogers was the Cows' drummer from their fourth through seventh albums)

Yeah. And he was really shy. He would stand with his back to the audience, and his face was all red. And I was sitting there thinking, "Wow, those guys need someone up front - a monkey jumping around. That'll do `em some good." So I took Norman out for drinks. He was actually in the Jayhawks at the time. So I said, "You know, you're busy with the Jayhawks. Maybe you don't really have time to be singing - you don't need this pressure on you." And he agreed and I became the singer! It was an accident, but it worked out well for me.

So were you friends with the other guys?

Yeah, Thor and Kevin lived together, and I lived with this girl. One night there was this big snowstorm and she started nagging at me, telling me all the things that were wrong with me. And I chose that night to tell her everything I thought was wrong with HER. So she ended up throwing me out of the house at 3 in the morning. I went over to Thor and Kevin's and slept on their couch. Ended up living there!

That's so odd to think that Norm was the first singer. What kinds of songs did they play back then? Was it the same stuff you ended up singing?

Yeah, when I saw them, they did lots of songs that ended up on the first album.

Really!? They played that noisy stuff for the retarded people?

Yeah. They loved it!

Well. I'm not going to address the implications of that, but.

That does kinda tell you something, I guess.

So were you comfortable as a frontman from the beginning? Or did it take time to get used to it?

Oh, I was comfortable from the beginning.

Why? Had you been in bands before?

No. I never actually wanted to be in a rock band. When I was in college, I was very shy. But then I took this speech class; one day I had to get up and speak in front of the class, and that's when I discovered that I like showing off in front of people! So then I took a theater class. I was actually majoring in political science and history, but after I got in front of audience, I didn't care anymore. It was like, "Hey! This doesn't make me feel all funny inside! I could be in a band and - jump around!

Did the other guys go to college too? Did you graduate college?

The other guys in the band were all going to college to become teachers. And then when everyone was a couple credits away, we all started taking acid, formed a band and that was that.

Did Thor quit the band to go back and become a teacher?

Oh, no. He doesn't want to be a teacher anymore. It's too late to start now anyway! But it's surprising how many people in really weird bands wanted to be teachers.

So did you know immediately that you guys clicked really well as a band? Or did it take a while before you really felt confident and proud of the material?

Well, we thought we were better than we probably actually were. I mean, we'd come off the stage thinking, "Yeah! That was a great show!" and everyone else was probably thinking, "What the - hell? That was the worst bunch of shit I've ever heard in my life!" But actually, this one time after we'd done a couple of gigs, we were sitting around having a beer at a bar - and they told me they wanted to quit! "Yeah, we played some shows and had our fun, but.." And I just said, "What are you guys talking about? We're gonna make albums. We're gonna tour the whole world and get paid for it! We're gonna hang out with all the people in your record collection!" They thought I was nuts but they agreed to give it a shot.

Did you use the same lyrics that Norm was singing? Or did you write new ones?

I replaced most of the old lyrics.

Okay. And how long was it before you started contributing music too?

I was coming up with music right away! In fact, at first my best friend wanted to be the singer too, and they couldn't make up their minds which one they wanted. So for a while they had two singers! With two VERY different ideas. We'd make this horrific racket with these two guys screaming at the top of their lungs completely different melodies.


In retrospect, that would've been kinda cool.. I've never seen a band do that before.

What was the deal with Treehouse (editors' note: Cows' first record label)? Were they just assholes? Or -

Although we didn't know it at the time, I think by underground music label standards, they were about average. But we just noticed after a while that he'd sold all these copies of our album and we'd made no money. We were trying to make another album and we had no money to do it! So we just figured that a lot of time was wasted.

So is Taint Pluribus Taint Unum EVER going to come out on CD?

I don't know what's going on with that album. The head of Treehouse is a record collector - that's actually what made us paranoid about how he was handling our business. Was he stashing copies of our album to sell in the future? I don't know. I'm not gonna say he was, but. we never saw any money from it.

And then AmRep signed you because they liked the "Chow" single, right?

Yeah. Tom Hazelmeyer lived across the street from Kevin and they started hanging out. He liked "Chow," but he didn't like our first album. He wanted to sign us though, because we were kinda controversial in Minneapolis.

Really? That early?

Right away! We had only been playing for a few months when we got signed to Treehouse. Mark Trehus worked at a record store in Minneapolis, and people kept coming into his store saying, "Oh, I loved this band The Cows that I saw the other night!" or "Oh, The Cows are the worst band ever." He told us he'd never seen anything like that in his life!"

What did you do that was so controversial?

We took acid every practice and every show! We were really pretty nuts. Pretty loud too. Like I said, we thought we were really great, but. Well, we weren't the tightest band in the world exactly. But we didn't give a shit. We got banned from clubs.

For what!?

Just because our shows were so loud and so crazed.

Okay, so then you made three albums for AmRep and all three of those are out of print now. Did it upset you when they combined the three onto the Old Gold CD and dropped some songs? Or did you think it was a good idea?

They weren't selling that good anyway. When we put out those albums, Hazelmeyer was all about vinyl. So when he wanted to put out a CD, it just made sense, I guess. I mean, he couldn't fit all the songs on there, but we got most of them. It was at least a way to keep them in print without having to individually press each one into a CD. Hang on a second, got another call.


(14 years pass)

Okay, sorry about that.

That's fine! So before Old Gold, AmRep had out that CD with Peacetika and - it said it was one album, but it was the wrong one.

That was Daddy Has A Tail. He did that because that album wasn't on CD yet at that point.

But it was Effete and Impudent Snobs on the actual CD. Whichever one the CD label said it was, it was actually the other one.


Yeah! My radio station had a copy - I think I even showed it to you guys when I interviewed you way back when (editor's note: 1994 on my college radio station).

I've never heard of that.

Well, maybe it was just one bad pressing. But this disc definitely had the wrong album on there with Peacetika. But, so what changed to make such a huge improvement in production quality between the fourth and fifth albums? Were you given more money for Cunning Stunts? Or new amps or something?

We had a different producer for Cunning Stunts. The real difference was between the 3rd and 4th albums, when we got a new drummer. Norm was a lot more schooled, so we could do a lot more shit with him than we could before. But with Cunning Stunts, Iain Burgess was just a real good producer. He wasn't trying to capture how we sounded live so much as he was just trying to make a real good sounding album.

All the three of those guys -- Tim Mac, Iain Burgess and Buzzo -- all gave you a completely different sound on the records they did. Did they work in drastically different ways? Or did any of them try to tell you what to do with your music or anything?

Nobody was pushy about it. We always had this big onus in the studio because we didn't feel our albums were as powerful as our live shows. But there are a lot of intangible things that go into the recording of an album. I don't know, maybe having 300 or 400 people in there watching us would have helped! Buzzo was the first one to sit down and say, "I'm not going to replicate your live sound. We're gonna take each song, and it doesn't matter if it sounds the same as it does live or it doesn't. We're gonna use these different instruments and if you can't replicate the exact sound live, it doesn't matter because people who know the songs that well are automatically gonna `hear' that stuff anyway." And he was right. And he helped tighten up the songs. Some were like, "Well it's a good 5-minute song - maybe it'd be even better if we made it a 3-minute song." And he came up with all these alternative mixes too.

Is that the stuff on the pic-disc (The Missing Letter Is You)?

No, this is stuff that never came out. Like, he did a dub mix of "Finished Again." He would do stuff like that, just for his own amusement. There's also a gay porno version of "Say Uncle."

When I first got heavily into the band (right after Peacetika came out), one of the things I.. oh that's a dumb question, I'm not gonna ask that.


As opposed to all my other.. really intelligent, thought-provoking questions. Oh, here's one. Did your stage act ever result in violence against YOU? Were there ever nuts in the crowd that got mad at something you did and -

Oh yeah! Lots of people threatened to kill me!

Seriously? Why? What did you do to them?

Oh you know, in some towns there'd be some big burly guy standing up front like "I'm not scared of you!" Or I'd dance on some guy's table and he'd pat his pocket like "I got a gun." I was attacked by bikers and white supremacists -

For what?

The supremacist popped out of audience and said he was gonna kill me! So I popped him with the bottom of my mic stand and he fell back into the crowd and I didn't hear anything else from him. And there was this big biker in Houston that was standing up front kinda leering at me. And you know how the audience will stop watching the show and start watching the confrontation instead. So finally I said I gotta do something about this guy, so I leaned down, grabbed him by the hair and French kissed him.


He thought I was great after that. After the show, he came up and asked me if I wanted to fuck his girlfriend! I turned that one down.

But the worst you were ever hurt was when you fell through a ceiling, right?

I fell through a skylight.

Was that the worst you've been hurt?

I'd say so - I broke both my arms!

Oh God! Both of them?

Yep, I felt my left wrist snap like a twig. And my right humerus -

Is that another call?


I heard a click - was that another -

Mm-mm. I didn't hear anything.

Oh okay. I thought I heard a click.

Well, every once in a while I slip into a Bushman thing. (makes glottal clicking noises)

(laughs) If I'd known you spoke Bushman, we could have done the whole interview like that! So when, I remember back the first time I interviewed you, you said that the Cows would never be signed to a major label because you were "too old and crazy." Was there ever a point when the Cows were actively trying to get signed to a major label? Or were you happy where you were?

No, we wanted to get signed by a bigger label. Because no one wants to starve to death. And an underground band has a certain shelf life, you know. When people find out about you, they're like, "Wow, these guys are my little secret," but they also want you to get more popular to validate their opinion. And after Cunning Stunts got some attention, people thought that we would streamline our sound, but we just got weirder. We never got any offers. We never even got taken out to dinner by a label. Minneapolis was actually a hotbed for talent scouts at that time, and we were bigger than most of the bands. We were playing in front of 2000 people and they're signing bands that have only played live a few times.

Why did they ignore you? Did they just think you were too noisy or something?

We had record labels saying stuff to us like, "Sure, this guy's a crazy frontman, but not in a way that we can really market to anybody." Like it's okay to be Marilyn Manson, because record executives know that's an act. They thought The Cows really WERE that way. And there were rumors about my drug use. People thought I acted that way because I was on drugs all the time - which I wasn't. Plus, we really weren't about changing our sound to please a label. And you have to put it in historical context. We started in the 80s with a different premise, because back then no independent bands were getting signed. Our whole thing was to just go around to small clubs and play to 300 people and string along that way. Like blues guys do. They can play 20 years doing small clubs. But after Nirvana, playing in a band was all about getting famous. By then, we'd already established ourselves as a certain kind of band, so -

How important is music to you? Is there anything you would rather be doing? Acting or...

Well, I never sat back when I was younger and said, "I wanna be a musician." I saw The Cows and said, "I wanna sing for THOSE guys." Sometimes I think it's not that important so I don't do it for a few weeks, but then I find myself writing a few songs. It's kinda hard to get out of it. We're all at the top of our game anyway so why would we quit? I already made my bed anyway; what am I gonna do now? I have no employment record! "Okay, Mr. Selberg, how do you explain this 10-year gap in your resume?" "I was a musician for the past ten years." "Ah. A drug addict! I see. Well.. we'll call you!"

So was it frustrating the Cows disbanded and you had to start over from the beginning? Or did you have a built-in fan base with the Cows/Swans thing?

We were accepted pretty much immediately in New York. I'm not sure what goes on outside of New York, but we didn't get a lot of publicity when we first started touring. The whole thing kinda happened in a vacuum. But on the same hand, people were probably wondering, "How much did Shannon really have to do with writing the Cows' music anyway? Is this gonna be any good?" Plus we're getting older -- a lot of people form new bands after their old bands break up and they all suck. And the Cows and Swans? That's old. We've always done good in New York though. Probably because people only have to go down the street to see us play. As opposed to other towns where people have to drive or go a long way to see a show. They probably page through the weekly, see the ad and think, "Cows, Swans, maybe I'll go."

I know at first the whole playing the bugle thing was just kind of a joke, but you still do it. Should one infer by this that you do honestly enjoy playing it? Or is it just another noise to throw in the mix?

It started off as a prop. We'd do these long jams in practice and they'd go on and on, and I'd run out of lyrics and sit there with nothing to do so I'd get bored. Kevin had a bugle lying around and one day he handed me the bugle and I said, "Hey, I'm not doing anything else. Might as well play the bugle." And if you play anything long enough, you get better at it.

How long have you been playing the keyboard?

In 1997, my mom gave me a Casio keyboard for Christmas. I didn't really know what to do with it, but I started fucking around with it, writing riffs. The Heroine Sheiks' music grew out of that.

You did "Dear Dad" too, right?

Yep. And I had a part in "No, I'm Not Coming Out." I actually pitched a lot of the Heroine Sheiks stuff to the Cows, but they didn't go for them.

Why not? Not enough guitars?

Who knows.

Okay, here's a question my friend (Christian Smith) wanted me to ask you. He's kinda smart, so that's why it's phrased like this. Disgust and revulsion appear constantly in your lyrics. Do you see these as an endemic of existence, or just in the characters you choose to portray?

Umm.. Could you run that by me again?

Sure! Disgust and revulsion appear constantly in your lyrics. Do you see these as a major part of EVERYBODY'S existence? Or do you just choose to write about characters who happen to have this kind of existence?

Kinda both. I think that it's one way of telling a compelling story - the stories I like to read are stories like that. People have a lot of high-minded ideals, but what about when they're alone in their room picking their nose and scratching their ass and thinking about how they're gonna die, or about how they don't REALLY know what their girlfriend did last night or why their friend did this terrible thing to them the other day. It's like when we first started The Cows, my good friends were really worried about me. "You seem to be on some kind of death trip." But the lyrics never suggested that people are evil - just STUPID. And not even "stupid," really; people just make a lot of bad decisions. Decisions that hurt other people, which causes a chain reaction so they get hurt back. You'd think people would wise up, but they never do. I don't! Nobody I know does. To me, that's what makes a fascinating story. The fact that people know they're making a bad decision, but they do it anyway. You see people do it every day. Like a girl who goes, "My last boyfriend beat me." "Well, how about your new one?" "Well, he beats me too, but he really loves me." Why would an intelligent person do that? So that's what I'm kinda digging for. Why people do these things and what comes out of it.

Are a lot of the stories based on your own personal experience?

You might spend a third to a half of every album talking about yourself, but you make the story bigger to appeal to more people. I'd rather write lyrics that could mean anything to a lot of people rather than just being about something that happened to me.

Are there any other lyricists or writers out there that you like a lot?

I like the guy from The Pogues. I don't like the music, but the lyrics are great. Tom Waits has a lot of good lyrics. And Nick Cave when he's not talking about that gothic shit he talks about sometimes. And the man - Mark E Smith. And Mick Jagger.

Have you ever written anything that could be considered a love song?

I've had girlfriends say to me, "Are you ever gonna write a song about me?" You don't want me to! When we break up, I'll write a song about you. If I'm writing a song about you -- you have to be real honest when you write lyrics. Plus, the music in the background doesn't lend itself to writing that kind of stuff. I don't think anyone really wants me to write love songs anyway.

So how do you go about writing a song? What's the process?

Most Heroine Sheiks songs start with the keyboard. It has a lot of different instrument settings, and a real basic beat box setting on there. Then John turns it into a real drumbeat - he's pretty good at it! And Norman I just sort of let him do what he wants because he never overplays, which I really like about him. Everything he does is very tastefully done. Leaves room for other people.

How would you describe the Heroine Sheiks to people who like the Cows but haven't heard the Sheiks yet?

The Heroine Sheiks are a little more groove-oriented than The Cows. And a little more riff-oriented. Hang on a sec -

(four millennia later)

Sorry about that.

Do you have to go?

No. What were we talking about again?

How the Heroine Sheiks are different from the Cows?

Oh yeah. Yeah. The Cows were more bludgeoning, where The Heroine Sheiks are more dynamic. When I started the band, trying out different people, I was really looking to see how well they played in the context of a group. My basic philosophy is that alternative music has become so boring because everyone learns to play an instrument and everyone wants their own part to be so fucking interesting. So you end up with four musicians all trying to show off with their little bit, and there's no coherent song anymore. When you're fucking a girl, you don't throw that shit on - you throw on hip-hop. Rock musicians today don't listen to each other. And that's the philosophy of the Heroine Sheiks; people play off everybody else. The individual parts are simple, and the songs come out of how they go together.

And how would you say Siamese Pipe is different from Rape on the Installment Plan?

It's a little more accessible in a good way. It hangs together better I think. It's easier to listen to, but just as harsh.

Could you describe the inspirations and ideas behind some of the new songs? Which are your favorites?

I get ideas from watching the news, or just walking along thinking. I pretty much like all of them. I'm pretty strict about lyrics; if something isn't working, I just dump it. Sometimes I'll take the good parts of the lyrics from a song that isn't working and combine it with others to make a song that works. Or I have a lot of short stories I've written laying around that I sometimes end up stealing from myself and using them for songs.

Do you have an end goal for the Heroine Sheiks? Are you hoping to get interest from larger labels?

I don't know - it really sticks in your craw sometimes. You wanna be more successful because you see your opening bands going on to record with million dollar budgets, but then you see the shit they have to DO -- play free concerts for radio stations, stand around sign autographs, go on Rikki Lake. Then on the other hand, you see people you know performing on Letterman and just go, "Damn! We're better than they are! It used to be possible to make a living by playing in an independent band. Now it seems like you're either starving or you're rich.


Because you're either on an indie label that starves you or you get huge money to do Hollywood shit. And you can't be real controversial unless it's in a really simplistic way. We don't write music for teenagers and wouldn't want to. But then again, you suck in teenagers and they'll come see you forever. If people become your fans at that age, they'll be loyal to you for life. Another big problem we heard from record labels after Cunning Stunts was "I like em, but how do I sell em? How can I make a palatable image out of this that I can put in Wal-Mart?"

And you're saying that `Sexy Pee Story' didn't do that?

(loud resigned groan) Yeah, instead of streamlining our sound, we followed Cunning Stunts up with THAT.

Are there any Cows songs or albums you aren't particularly thrilled with for one reason or another?

With a lot of the songs, we recorded them too soon after we wrote them. We could've perhaps recorded them better had we waited a little bit or had more time in studio to listen back to the tracks. We always had so little time that by the time everybody rushed through their parts, that was it. Vocals were always last, so when it came time for me to sing, I didn't have time to think about what I was doing too much. If you're on an indie, you usually have to record within a week or two weeks. Our budgets would go up in small increments over the years, but they were still all pretty small. $5000 at most.

What are your favorite songs that you've done?

I have different favorites on different days.

Was anyone in the Cows concerned that you your antics made it seem like you were just a novelty band?

Definitely. Because as far as critics are concerned, these bands are either complete joke bands or completely harsh bands. But with us, it was always both. Calling us a joke band was an easy way for writers to write about us. "These songs are so funny, they're always kidding around." No, we're not! Life isn't all sad and life isn't all funny - it's both. So we'd write a few depressing songs and say, "Ah Jesus, we can't make all our songs like that," so we'd write a funny one to break the tension. Then we'd write an angry one.

Is the record company doing anything big to promote the new album?

So far, it's being promoted pretty well. They've sent out 270 press packets already.

I know I'm jumping around a lot. I just want to make sure I don't miss anything I wanted to ask. Oh, here's one -- Do you think that being on AmRep helped the Cows find an audience or did it hinder you by ensuring you'd be pigeonholed as a "noise" band?

That was the thing about AmRep. It got typecast as a certain sound, but most of the bands are really extremely different from each other. Supernova didn't sound at all like Helmet, Lubricated Goat didn't sound at all like Halo of Flies and so on. But the noisier bands were copied by so many local bands that people began to think there was an AmRep sound. But it never existed. It got us typecast, but at the same time there wasn't anybody dying to sign us either. We sent a tape to Touch and Go, and they just sent it back! We sent them, I think, "Chow" and "Chasing Darla" and a couple others. They said it all sounded like waltzes.

Sounded like what?




I'm still not getting it. Could you spell -


Oh! WALTZES! That's right. Steve Albini said that, right?


Well, "Chasing Darla" IS a waltz.

How is "Chasing Darla" a waltz?

That's a waltz beat - boom-pip-pip, boom-pip-pip -

Yeah, but you're not going to see like old people waltzing around to "Chasing Darla."

I don't know, maybe you're just hanging around with the wrong old people. Hey, here's a question. Do you get really sick of touring? You've been doing it for so long.

No, I like it! I like to tour the hard way. I don't like to stay in motel rooms. And I like to go out and meet the local eccentrics after the show. A lot of the crowd pays the money and goes home, but the local interesting characters ask you to come over and have a drink. The thing about New York is that everyone is trying so hard to get ahead, you don't meet a lot of real eccentrics. You see people who WANT to be eccentric and want you to THINK they're eccentric, but in Texas and the Midwest, there's a lot of people like that. People who live like they want to and just don't give a shit about what anybody else thinks. That's the people that are the most like us.

Do you live like that? Are you an eccentric person like that?

Well, I'm not. I don't know, I don't expect to ever be sitting on the beach with a model or anything.

Yeah, but you always seem to have a girlfriend.

Well, I like girls.

Do you meet your girlfriends because they're fans of the band, or do you meet them in other places?

Most are girls that have seen the band play. I don't go out very much!

Aside from music, what else are you really into?

Politics, science, I'd like to get a little more schooled in literature, but there's so much stuff out there that's REAL that I wanna learn about before I start spending time on fiction.

I'm exactly the same way! I never read fiction, because there's so much interesting nonfiction out there.

I really should read more. I've got plenty of time for it. I don't even have a job!

Really? How are you making a living then? Are you still getting Cows royalties?

(laughs) No, no. I asked Tom about royalties once, and he said that people don't even know AmRep exists anymore. They're a catalog label now, but people think they don't exist. Plus, we still owe THEM money. But that's a technical point....


Hang on a second.

(3 millennia pass)


Do you have to go? I've kept you for over an hour already.

Wow, has it been that long?

Why do you keep getting calls? Are you the most popular man in America?

It's not me, it's my roommate!

Well, I should let you go shortly, so let me ask my final question, which I ask everybody because I'm basically obsessed with it, and I know you saw it first-hand - What are your thoughts about 9/11?

The way I figure it, 'cause I've been following this stuff for a long time - I was telling everybody for a couple years they were gonna hit us. You keep sticking your finger in a hornets' nest and you're gonna get stung. But I'm always going off about one opinion or another - that was just one.

It was amazing watching the towers fall down. I felt really bad about all the people dying, but you don't go fuck with Afghanistan and demand their oilfields and tell them, "You're gonna live like us `cause we say so," because they're gonna hit us back. There's gonna be a certain hardcore element that's gonna tell you to go to Hell. You can't tell people how to live!

And everybody talks about suicide bombers like that's a new thing. I mean, suicide - everybody who marches into battle expects to die. That's why they're heroes - because they're willing to give their lives for a greater cause. I don't think you go bomb innocent civilians, but it was bound to happen. And we didn't learn from it. Their whole concept of America is that if we can take advantage of a situation for our enrichment, we do so. And that's what our government has done with 9/11 exactly. I listened to Bush's speech tonight, and it was the same old cynical two-faced bullshit. I think a third-rate lawyer could take out his entire argument. We want the UN to approve us going to war, but we don't really give a fuck whether they approve it or not. And we have to kill Saddam why? "Because he tried to kill my dad." Think of how many tombstones there are going to be for dead Dads if we go to war against Iraq. What the hell is this?

The real story isn't being told. It's all convoluted. He "might" have a nuclear bomb, he "might" have germ warfare. You don't march into a foreign country and destroy the government and replace it; it's just not how society works. Maybe they're not the best people to lead Iraq, but they know where everything is. They know how to run the country. You don't decapitate a country and then put someone else in charge.

Like The Cows toured the eastern bloc right after the Berlin Wall came down. Americans were all still gung ho about how "Communism fell! Isn't that great! Didn't we win the Cold War like we knew we would?" But you ask people there and they'll tell you that it's the same old Communists that were in charge before, only now they're calling themselves the Democratic Party. But it has to be that way. You can't just put someone in there who doesn't know how to run a country. Take America - what if you put the Green Party in charge? They wouldn't know what to do!

A government is just a big protection racket. One party can give you more than another but basically all you're looking for is an organization to protect the national boundaries and the rest is gravy. That's why Russia turned out how it did. We destroyed their government and the mafia took over. People wanted to be protected - and now we're all shocked that they have a gangster government.

Do you think that somebody in our government knew 9/11 was going to happen, and let it happen?

I don't think anybody let it happen but they haven't been shy about exploiting it. The rest of the world was really on our side at the beginning, but a lot of them were worried we'd use it for our own benefit. And that's what we did. Like we have the right to destroy anyone's national sovereignty because we got bombed. Bush says Europe isn't down with us `cause they aren't worried about terrorism. They've been hit by it pretty heavily since the `70s, but they don't use it as an excuse to take over the world. A lot of people complain that America is trying to be police the world - there's a name when police run everything, and it's called a police-state. I love America, but we don't have the right to do anything we want.

I used to tell people when we toured in other countries that the U.S. has had close shaves with robber barons and things, threatening to turn us into a more fascistic state. But when we're under the gun, we always back up and go, "Well." I wanna do what I want. My neighbor may be a faggot and I may not approve, but if the government fucks with him, then they can fuck with me too. European history hasn't been like that. What's different with Bush now is that we are apparently going along with him - 60% approval.

Why is that?

Well, I look at it this way, which makes me suspect that other people out there look at it this way too. The way they're spying on people and saying, "We're really keeping an eye out for terrorists" and "If you're not with us, you're against us," -- if I get a call on the phone and I don't know who it is and they ask, "Do you approve of what George W. Bush is doing?," I know I'm going to be wondering, "What will happen if I say `No'?" Will my computer be gone thru? Will the cops spy on me? Will I get an IRS audit? If I think that way, it's gotta be on other peoples' minds too. They get a call from someone they don't know asking questions and they're gonna be against their government in a time of war?

My friends aren't anti-patriotic, and they don't agree with what he's doing. I can't believe that 90% of the people I know are against it, yet 60% of the country isn't. I mean, my Dad's against it and he worked in the defense business his whole life. He says Bush is a stinkin' dictator and they're all crooks. Cheney's done stuff he should be impeached for. They've released papers saying that they're basically running the government for their own benefit. They made it public in `93 that America has the right to run the world and be the biggest superpower ever. That's basically fascist. Taking over the world? What the hell? That's not America! Within America, I can SAY the world would be a better place if we ran Saddam out, but to wipe out people like cockroaches from four miles out in space - it's kinda monstrous. But a Think Tank during the first Bush's administration said, "Now that we've won the cold war, we can either 1 - let history happen to us or 2 - we can control history." And they opted for the second one. Power can only grow - it can never go backwards. It's one of the ugly strains of American history.

I guess the only thing we can do is vote them out the next chance we get.

These guys got pretty much have all the opposition quaking in their boots. They're calling them traitors. Robert Byrd gave a speech in the Senate laying all this stuff out. They're all Texas oil guys shaking down the world for oil. It's disgusting that they're holding the country and Constitution hostage for their own use. I'm for the Constitution, and you can't hand unlimited power over to the president. He's out to make permanent war so people won't watch what's happening in the national economy and what they're doing over there in the Soviet Republic.

They're using the Soviet Republic to attack the Middle East?

No, that's not what I'm saying at all.

Sorry, I was typing and -

They want to take over the oil fields in the Baltic Republic. We're dependent on Middle Eastern oil. Russia has in theory just as much oil, and they're already our allies. So they want to get oil from Russia first, then backpedal and deal with Middle East monarchies. I think they'd like them to turn into democracies, but they're going about it in a manipulative, evil way.

Are they completely doing this for their own benefit? I mean, I understand the importance of oil to the economy, but it doesn't seem like they're doing ANYTHING to try to reduce our dependence on oil.

And here's another thing that's completely not reported in the U.S. press. This guy just wrote a book about it: If we're so dependent on the Middle East for oil and we're about to go to war for this shit, why don't we do something about SUVs? They're the biggest gas waster on the road. Why? Because the U.S. auto industry is completely dependent on SUVs to survive. They charge exorbitant prices on SUVs. All they do is take a station wagon body and put it down on a truck chassis. But it has completely different safety regulations. SUVs are completely dangerous and get in a lot more accidents than other vehicles. And accidents cause more deaths. So people with normal cars get huge insurance bills because of SUVs. But politicians are dependent on the support of the auto industry, because it's our biggest industry. But jesus, before you dig in the Arctic and attack Afghanistan, at least try to get people to stop buying SUVs. But they can't because our economy depends on it. You'll never see politicians come out against them and say, "Stop making vehicles that get 10 miles to the gallon!" They're the country's biggest advertisers too, so newspapers and television are not going to report it.

I never considered that point at all. Okay, it's now been an hour and a half. I'm gonna let you go! Let me get all this stuff formatted and shoot it over to you for revisions and whatnot.

Sounds good.

Have a good evening!

You too.

Reader Comments

Dan M.
thanks for the great interview, i saw them 2 nights ago in Lansing, MI. You asked a few good questions that i had forgot to ask Eric(current bassist, old keyboard-ist). Im looking to trade Sheiks recordings.
From reading this one and the Bryan Baker interview I wanna throw up and I've lost all respect for both of those assholes. I like how Baker tries to dodge the question as to why he doesn't write lyrics for Bad Religion. As left wing as they are at least Greg Graffin is educated enough to form logical thought patterns and make great pop-punk at the same time. Shannon & Bryan will be great pussylickers for Hillary Clinton- a couple of art school limousine liberal morons void of any intellect other than the soundbites they get from CNN. It almost makes me wanna vote Republican for the rest of my life just to cancel out one of their votes. Shannon Selberg is too mentally challenged to possibly even pass college freshman economics, but somehow is an expert on the oil industry. Fuck him, I'm burning all my cows albums...or wait they're CD's...I'll probably have to pour gasoline on them to light them up. Now that I've vented, you have a damn fucking good band selection on your site and I'll keep reading Mark.
Great interview!

While most Psychedelic-noise-punkrock bands are really difficult for me to get into (Butthole Surfers, most Australian outfits of the eighties like Feedtime or K. Snake Roost), I actually really like the stuff I've heard from the Cows (the first Lp in Treehouse), mainly due the fact that Shannon's got a fantastic voice (really, one of the most gifted vocalists- not in an Ian Gillan way, of course- I've heard). "Mother, mother, I love that b**ch!!!!"

But their CDs, they are somewhat out of print, aren't they? Try to buy Old Gold Cows or Cunning Stunts on eBay or Amazon, it's so damn hard to track down a decent priced copy of'em!

Rian Yirkah
Shannon's one of the greatest frontmen of my lifetime (up there with Mark E. Smith, Iggy Pop, Mike Patton, David Yow, Captain Beefheart, G.G. Allin). It's a shame that he retired from making music. The Cows should've been big. Realistically, they wouldn't have been playing arenas. I'm talking Jesus Lizard-big. Too bad the press didn't get a fucking clue. Heroine Sheiks kicked all kinds of ass, too. Interpol, Gogol Bordello, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio....what do these four bands all have in common? They all opened up for Heroine Sheiks, at one time or another. It's kinda mindblowing when you think about it.

My favorite Cows albums:

Sorry In Pig Minor
Cunning Stunts
Effete and Impudent Snobs
Sexy Pee Story
Daddy Has A Tail
Orphan's Tragedy

Add your thoughts?

*I know most of 'em are out of print, but try buying Cows CDs here anyway

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