Rob Wright - 2006

Share:   Facebook  You know what No means? It means read this Mark Prindle interview with NMN's Rob WrightTwitter   Email to friend               

Rob Wright is the founding bassist/vocalist for Canada's Nomeansno (and its side band The Hanson Brothers). When John Chedsey of Satan Stole My Teddybear and offered me the chance to interview the talented Mr. Wright, I jumped at the iota! (idea). So we scheduled a time for me to call when they would be traveling in their tour van. However, when I called, Rob was driving the goddem van! I was under the assumption that they then switched drivers so we could chit-chat for an hour or so, but I turned out to be mistaken, as you will soon see. Still, I greatly appreciate him spending a half-hour on the phone with me on that lovely October afternoon. My questions are in bold; his answers are in regular newsprint. (And yes I had many more questions to ask him, but time is a busy process)


Mark, it's me.

Hey, how are you?

Good, how are you, man?

I'm good. Good, good, good. So... John was reading to you from my reviews?

No, no. I haven't read the reviews yet. So if you said something nasty, don't worry: I don't know about it.

Oh, no, I didn't. I didn't.

I'm sure you didn't.

I've been a big fan since `Wrong' came out. That was when I hopped on...



Yeah, actually the album we did - that's pretty roundly liked. Everyone seems to like it, so that's good.

The new one?


Are you more popular now than you've ever been?

No. We're more popular now than we were three years ago, but the most popular we ever were was around the turn of the `80s to the `90s when Nirvana hit and punk rock became cool. We became sort of the third-highest independent touring band in Europe behind Bad Religion and, oh, a couple others. There was one other... what the hell, I forget the name of that band... Ah, Fugazi. There we go. Fugazi, Bad Religion, and us. We did really well. And then that sort of faded away and all of the sort of Johnny-come-latelys faded away to just whatever was cool next. But we always kept sort of a firm base of fans. It doesn't vary that much. Our promoter in Europe calls us `Steady Eddie.' Because we get about the same amount of people every time, and have done for 20-odd years now, almost.

Are you reissuing your CDs in America too, or just over there?

Just over there at the moment, because there's no one interested in doing it over here. We might do it ourselves in a very limited way and sell them on the Internet or at shows - limited releases of the old back catalog. But you can get it on import, about half of them now. I think for this summer a couple more are coming out, maybe `Mr. Happy' and `0+2' or something like that.

I can't believe there aren't companies interested in putting them out. Do they feel like... I mean, there are always people looking for those.

Yeah, but it's that percentage that doesn't amount to enough to make it attractive to anyone who's in the business of making money selling records. We just sort of hover on the lower strata. I mean, yes, we do sell records, but no, we don't make anyone rich doing it, so no one's that interested in doing it.

Had Alternative Tentacles taken them out of print?

No, we took our back catalog from them. Because, well, frankly, when Jello lost his back catalog - when he lost the Dead Kennedys - I thought, well, you know, this doesn't seem like the safest place to be. So we decided we'd better get out of there. There was just too much legal stuff going on; you don't know when your whole career is going to be put in escrow with some lawyers looking after it, you know? That's not a good thing. Jello was kind of hurt by that, and I understand that, but our back catalog is basically all we've got. And he takes things personally, but for us it was just a wise business thing to do. Sometimes you've just got to look at the dollars and cents and go, "This doesn't make any sense to do this anymore. We've got to get out of here." So that's what we did.

Did you pay a lump sum for it, or were you not in...

I don't know, we paid like 20,000 American for our back catalog. All the stuff that was printed. We're just now getting rid of the last of it. Thank God! It was filling up my garage! (Laughs)

I'm so glad I bought all the stuff as it was coming out, because it's really expensive now.

Yeah, I know, it's ridiculous. I saw original pressings of `Sex Mad' going for like 280, 300 dollars US on eBay. I find that ridiculous, I really do. I don't understand why a certain kind of plastic is more valuable than another. But people are into that stuff. Yeah, it's kind of ridiculous, but it's true.

Did Alternative Tentacles keep the one that he did with you?

Yes, he did. He kept the 'Jello Biafra & Nomeansno' one. Yeah.

Now why did you guys switch instruments on that?

We didn't.

Was it a mistake in the printing...?

No, it's a lie.

Oh, it's a lie!

Most of the things that you read about us, especially if it comes from us, it's disinformation.


Yeah. If you read anything on the web site, or anything that seems to come out of our area, it's usually lies.

Oh, okay. The reason I thought that is because you credit the guitars to Mr. Wrong on that album.

Oh, that could've been Andy. Yeah, yeah, we don't care much about explaining who does what. It's like, if you had a house built or bought a house, would you care about the name of the guy who built it, or whether he had, like, green M&Ms or red ones? Not really, you just want to live in a good house. We just make good music, and who we are is really nobody's business but our own, so that's how do it. There's so much B.S. about that in the promotion of bands, so much personality and stuff that has nothing to do with the quality of the music. And it's usually there just to override the fact that the music has no quality! (laughs)

Yeah. And that's why you have pictures of bands that aren't you posted as media photos on your site?

Yeah, really! Yes!

Have any of those ever been used as far as you know?

I don't know. Not as far as I know. Yeah, we just let the music do the talking, and the rest of the stuff, we just have fun with it. And we make fun of people who take it too seriously, because it's not serious at all.

I love all the fake news on Nomeanswhatever.

Yeah. I now think it's getting to the point that everyone knows, basically, that what we say is not right so they don't listen to us anymore, which is basically how we want it.

What songs get the biggest response in concert?

Oh, we have a few quote-unquote hits. People love "Rags and Bones," people love "Victory," people love "The River." It's kind of the big, emotional ones that people really connect with. Things from `Wrong.' `Wrong' was our most popular release; it tends to be the one that sticks in people's memories because of the time and place. It's just sort of one of those albums that came out of a certain time and made a big impression. So that's the one that we're most known for, I think, and the songs off of that are quite popular. But I'd say... It's kind of funny, because "The River," which came out on `Mr. Happy,' and "Victory," which came off of `Small Parts' -- it seems to go song by song; no one album has all the good songs that everyone wants to hear, and all the rest you don't give a shit. Each album seems to have one or two songs that everyone likes, so that's good. When we did an audience survey over the internet about what they'd want to hear on a compilation, we found out that every album got represented pretty well in terms of what people wanted to hear. There was always a song, even back as far as `Mama,' that people wanted to hear in large numbers.

I like the albums - all of your albums, even `Mama,' which I wasn't expecting to like. It really grew on me!


Really, I think the only thing I don't like that you've done is the "Look, Here Come the Wormies" single. Not too fond of that one.

(laughs) That was my brother's song, and that was the first thing we ever tried to put out as Nomeansno.

Oh it's okay, I guess. That b-side is just ROTTEN, though!

Ha ha!

I mean, the bassline is OK, but then you start going, (in crazy old coot voice) "I'll hit you with my guitar!" or whatever.

No, that's an old friend of mine, that's not me.

Oh, it's not?!

No, it got credited as the Social Service, S.S., so that's not even Nomeansno. I did play on it, I do the bassline, but...

Oh, I thought that was the name of the song, "S.S."

Nope. It might be, but it's not Nomeansno. If you look at it closely, it's not credited to Nomeansno.

OK, all right. Strange. Now, see, I haven't seen the single; someone just sent me a copy of it. So I didn't have any idea! Do you, yourself, have a favorite record you've done, whether it's a Hanson Brothers or Nomeansno, or...?

I tend to just go, like most people, by songs. I have sort of songs... Mainly it's just ones that I don't like that I wish would go away.

Yeah, I was going to ask you about that - if there are any songs that you're not that fond of.

"Hunt the She Beast" - do you remember that one?

HATE IT. I hate that song!


Yeah, that is a... oooh, I hate that one.

That's a rotten song. Yeah. You know, we sort of always tried to do just what came up, and when you experiment or you just throw out everything that comes to you without doing a lot of censorship, you get some original songs but you're also going to get some clunkers. I mean, you're going to fail. Things are not going to go well on certain songs. I think all of our albums, as well as having good songs, have bad songs. But if they didn't, everything would be more generic, I think. If you start just going with a formula you know is going to work, as in aims to please, that ends up being pretty dreary. But if you're going to do it the other way, you're going to have to put up with a few real stinkers.

You know, I actually - I don't know if he read that to you - I mentioned that in my review. Did he read that part to you?

No, I don't think so.

Yeah, I actually said in there that... I should pull it up and just show you how you and I are on the same wavelength about your band.


Because I actually wrote that right near the beginning. I was talking about "You Kill Me," and I said: "One other thing I should note about this band is that, although they do have a defined sound (heavy prominent bass, stinging distorted guitar, busy expert percussion), their thirst for experimentation leads them to include at least one really bad song on each of their records. And I don't just mean in my opinion -- the range of stuff they try is such that I can't imagine anybody liking every single song on most of their records."

Well that's true as well. That's always been our strength and our weakness.

It's not even a weakness, though. If you go through your records, every song sounds different from the last.

Yeah. And that's good in the sense that if people are looking for variety, we strike a chord in every one or two songs. But it's bad in the sense that you're never going to get a whole bunch of people who like the whole band, right? It tends to keep you from being very popular in a widespread way, because that kind of popularity comes from a generic, single-mood sound. The classic is the Ramones, of course. Or Motorhead. Motorhead plays the same song over and over, but it's a pretty good song. They're very, very popular, right? I mean, I love it too. "Ace of Spades" and all the dozens of variations of that song are great. And the Ramones had the same thing. They had one idea, it was a perfect idea, and for like three records they did it perfectly. But for us, it's always been a million ideas, and hopefully people will catch on to one or two or three different ones that we try. But it's very hard, except for like the most dedicated fans, to really digest the whole record. And we don't really expect that. We never thought we were gonna be a really popular band. We always sort of knew that running a band like this wasn't going to fly on the mass level. And we gelled ourselves as a band to that idea, and things have worked out pretty well. We've got our little niche, and we've been working it pretty successfully for about 25 years.

You've got, like I said, a defined sound at the core of everything you throw around.

Yeah, it's all based on the rhythm section. Basically because that's how we started, just bass and drums. And it's all based on pretty hard, driving rhythms. But after that, it's like, you know, take your pick.

Did you ever take lessons, or are you self-taught?

No, I never took any lessons. My brother, though, was trained in jazz-style drumming in a very, very good junior high and high school program. He was very lucky to go to a couple of really good schools, and he learned a lot of drumming, basic drumming, from the discipline. And even writing music. Although he's probably forgotten it by now because he never practiced it, the writing of the music. But yeah, it was sort of a mix between his technique and my... I listened to a lot of music, I knew a lot about music, even though I never played it. So that was a good mix. I supplied sort of the variety of styles, and he supplied a very, very, very strong expertise of rhythm. And I just picked up the bass as I went along. And it's not too hard to play things you write, even though they sound complex. If you've written them, you obviously know how to do it.


Every now and then I do write something that I can't play. My brother certainly does that too. He writes things that I can't play, and that's really annoying.

Does he write music, too?

Oh, he writes a lot of music. He wrote a lot of music on the new record. This new record, I think, may represent the most collaboration between me and my brother in terms of his music and my lyrics and singing.


Yeah, I think there are more songs like that on this record than on any of our other records. So that's one reason it sounds a little different, I think.

Do you write all the words?

I write all the words, pretty well, yeah. John, every now and then, puts a lyrics in, but it's very, very seldom.

Does Tom write, or just put things on top of what you and John...

He helps out in arranging and jamming with us, but he has his own band The Show Business Giants; he makes his own solo records. And his style of writing songs is quite far afield from Nomeansno's in terms of feel and emotion. So he does his stuff through his own venue. But I know a couple of his songs that I want to record for Nomeansno. But it's sort of like doing covers, because they are that different from what we do.

Oh, wow. You know, I haven't heard any Show Business Giants. Is it more like the Hanson Brothers, or something else entirely?

No, it's more like Ween... Ween, but not quite so rock-based. It's like a country, rockabilly Ween mixed in with a bunch of other styles. It's way off the wall. It's very funny, too. A lot of it's really, really funny.

OK. When Tom first joined, did he have any trouble learning the old songs?

Yes, he had a huge amount of trouble. When Tom joined us, he was just a charmer; he wasn't much of a guitar player. I tortured him for about eight weeks before we went on his first tour with us, and it was like pulling teeth. It was terrible. But over the years, of course, he's become very adept as a guitar player. With us, it was more his personality and ability to perform, his sensibility. Those were more important. Anyone can learn how to play an instrument.

Well you certainly made his presence known on `The Worldhood of the World (as Such).'

Yes. Yeah. It wasn't long before he was a full partner.

Hey, inside the cover of `Ausfahrt,' with that tracklist, what are "Perambulate" and "Black Silhouette"?

Oh, "Perambulate" and "Black Silhouette" are two songs that didn't make it onto the record. They'll be coming out in some form on some sort of record at a later date. They're just a couple songs that didn't fit, sound-wise, and we wanted to keep the record around one hour and not more. Just keep it quite short and sweet.

So was the `Generic Shame' stuff the same deal - songs that didn't seem to fit onto 'One'?



It was just stuff that seemed to have no place on the record itself or just made it too long.

And again, it's three songs that don't sound like Nomeansno.

Yeah, they don't. They're quite, quite off the wall.

That ska song is hilarious, though. I don't even like ska, but that song is so much fun to sing.

(laughs). Well that's good, yeah. It gives us a chance to do stuff we don't ordinarily do for Nomeansno and still put it out. That's always been our problem: How do we make this cohesive? We finally decided, "We don't!" Just throw it together and let other people deal with it.

When you go to work on songs for a new record, do you purposely try to sound different from your last record, or do your tastes change so quickly that you want to keep...

No, basically what we've always done is basically let the songs decide how they're going to sound, and whatever songs come, come. And often they'll form themselves into a discernable group. But I prefer very little censorship in what you write, except for maybe editing to make things more concise musically or lyrically. But we don't look at a song and go, "Oh, Nomeansno shouldn't say that" or "Nomeansno shouldn't sound like that." Only rarely does something... I mean, you've heard that music. We don't make a lot of distinctions between one style and another. The idea is just if it's a good song - has this song got a good feel? And if it's slow, and if it's twelve minutes long, blues-based, fast, or if it's a polka... it doesn't make any difference. If it's what we like, then we'll put it out.

I mean, I realize it's been five years, but this one is SO different from the last record in like every way.


What does the new one sound like to you?

I think it sounds happier. I think it sounds more out-looking instead of inward-looking. It benefits from the influence of the Hanson Brothers; it benefits from the influence of John and his music being upfront and not so much my music predominating, which has a certain uniform tone. It also just represents - I mean, we worked in a studio that had like 40 digital tracks. This is the biggest production we've ever done. And one of the reasons it sounds different is because it basically has a lot more going on in terms of recording techniques. I think it worked out pretty well. So there's lots of reasons. Also we're just, you know, three or four years older. People change what they do and what they listen to and what they think is good changes as well. Hopefully that sort of organic thing happens in our music. You know, I've gotta get on the road.

Oh! You stopped driving!?


Oh, OK.

So, do you have a last important question? John's looking at me like, "We've gotta get going!"

Oh, see, I thought you switched drivers...

Well, we did, but I got out and was just walking around.

Oh, I'm sorry.

That's all right.

I guess just... What is your current outlook on life? The nature of life, humankind, because some of your lyrics in the past have been really, really dark.

Well, there's no change in what I think; there's just a change in what I feel. And that's reflected in the songs. I don't look back at my songs and go, "Those ideas were wrong." In fact, I look at them and go, "Those ideas were exactly right." It often kind of freaks me out when I listen to a song that I haven't heard for a long time that was me at 18 years old, and I sit there going, "That's EXACTLY what I think." You know? What it is is I don't feel so angry or bitter or cynical as I used to as a young man. I think aging's a big part of that. The older I get, the better the world seems, the less problems seem important. Again, I think that's just a natural process of getting older. But me, I'm a pretty happy guy, and I think that happiness informs this record. But the actual ideas in it - quote-unquote, because a lot of them are non-ideas, anti-idea ideas - they're pretty much the same from `Mama' on, because I haven't changed much. But you know what, nobody ever writes about that so we might as well not talk about it (laughs). No one has ever written about what the stuff means. That's not the-

But I wanted to ask you that! I have questions asking you what certain songs mean, and now I can't get to any of them.


Like what are you talking about in "Slugs are Burning"? What is going on in that?

The joy of savagery, what kind of a problem that is.

What savagery?

The joy of savagery.

Oh, the joy of savagery.

The thing that inspires the energy and power in life is the same thing that inspires horror and disgust. Because it's all about eating, killing and fucking. And we're just not comfortable with those subjects. But at the same time, that's what everyone wants. You know? That's what pushes everyone in society; it's always something to do with the basic animal need to procreate. And we're hung up about it. I mean, it's obviously necessary, but no one likes it! I mean, they like it, but they don't REALLY like it. It also scares them and makes them sick. And that's the theme that runs through a lot of it. But no, I'll have to phone you back at a later time, and we'll do something about the meaning of the songs.


I'll be a little bit coy. I think people should interpret them on their own terms, but I might give a lot of good hints.

OK. All right. Thank you very much for your time.

All right man, talk to you again.

All right. Bye.


POST-SCRIPT: John Chedsey was kind enough to take a photo of Rob pacing around outside the van talking to me on the phone. And here it is!

Reader Comments
Great interview, a bit short (which is understandable during the circumstances)... I hope you get the opportunity to talk to him again, as he kind of promised. (François Dorléans)
I had read a bit about this band something like fifteen years ago, when there was no Internet (how could we live?) to make underground/independent music as widely available as today. So I had completely buried it in the depths of my brain. When I read the reviews you posted recently, it made me want to finally hear how they sound.

And I was blown away. Seriously.

I've been checking most of their stuff, and it's really awesome. The live videos I saw are especially great. By the way, they're going to play here in Paris next month.

So thank you for the interview, very interesting as usual, thank you for the (re)discovery, thank you for everything Mr. Prindle!

...most notably for giving me more reasons to spend my money (Allan)
Great interview! Rob goes into a bit more detail on the Joy of Savagery theme in my Razorcake interview with him, here:

The rest of that conversation was published in Skyscraper 23, if anyone’s interested, where he talks about “Heaven,” “The Hawk Killed the Punk,” and “Mondo Nihilissimo 2000.” Rob is a very articulate, interesting human being... and I’ve never said so publicly, but Mr. Prindle, I greatly enjoy your reviews... Will link this page to my blog article about the Skyscraper interview being published... Cheers!

PS: Why don’t people like “Hunt the She Beast?” (Pantherboy)
Yep - saw them this summer and they were AMAZING - even more amazing than the last time I saw them. I couldn't believe that these gray-haired guys were making so much noise, and so WELL. Go see them live if you haven't. They really have a lot to say, with both the sounds and the words.
I just have one thing to say:

Seriously though, great interview. It's so hard to find information about these guys. I still have yet to see their new album in stores, even the cool stores. I know I could get it online, but I like a challenge.

Add your thoughts?

Click here to purchase Hanson Brothers CDs! (Or alternately continue clicking until Nomeansno CDs happen)

But sometimes "No" Means "YES," so return to by clicking right here!

What's that? You said "No"? Well, that means "YES!"

Hey, it sounded plenty sensible to me.