I think I first met Steve Krakow like 12 years ago or something. I had just started working at Chicago Comics and was going to Columbia College and freaking out about music, the city, my new life all the stuff that you freak out about when you’re 20. At the time Steve was a regular customer of ours, I’d see him every week, but didn’t talk to him at first cuz he truly seemed like this psych glam rock star from mars – always dressed to the nines in his fancy pants and vintage clothes. Also he had fabulous hair. This is what I first noticed about him. I was a bit intimidated. But one day we got to talking a little bit about the Camp Skin Graft comp that was playing in the store and I realized he was all right. A little affirmation after getting ragged on by my co-workers for the obnoxious nature of the comp was nice.
Over the years we talked a bit more at the store. I learned he was a huge nerd for the comics of the 60s and 70s, particularly Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. And I always liked the fact that where a lot of the back issue bin prowlers would search for the uber rarities and high priced finds, Steve would search for the $5 silver age steals. The more weirdo psych-ish/mod-ish the better. He contributed a comic to an issue of my zine Flotation Device that featured other people drawing comics about me. That was the only rule, make anything up, but it had to feature me. I’m embarrassed to think about it now and I would also never do such a thing now, but at the time I thought it was conceptual gold. His comic was awesome, but unfortunately not too many people saw it.
Most of the rest of his cv you probably already know. Plastic Crimewave Sound, Guitarkestra, Moonrises, Solar Fox, Million Tongues Festival, Galactic Zoo Dossier, etc. Hopefully this interview will help you get to know the person behind all this stuff. Maybe a little bit.
Okay, so let’s start things off by talking about music. What types of things drew you to a song as a kid? For example when I was a kid I was drawn to songs that created a feeling or an image in my mind like that song, Jam on It – to me that song took place inside of a cave and people were walking through it. There was something cinematic about it. The same for Revolution #9 off of the white album. As a way to make sense of it, my brain created some sort of narrative story to go along with all the samples and musique concrete that was going on. It was scary, but I loved it.
Oh Revolution #9 was huge for me too actually. I so wondered what they were on about. I think I liked melancholy melodies and sort of stories too, characters like Eleanor Rigby and the girl in Play with Fire.
What kind of music were you into as a kid – as a little kid, as a preteen junior high type, and as a teenager?
The first band I could identify on the radio was The Beatles on the oldies station, but also oddly dug Edwin Starr and the Village People. In junior high I was into Journey, Def Leppard, Rick Springfield and as a teenager was into hardcore classic rock ala Floyd, Hendrix, Sly. Then “punk broke” at the end of the teens… as well as Nuggets comps, the Velvets, Syd-era Floyd.
I would’ve been kind of surprised to see Rick Springfield on this list before, but I just read the little blurb in Timeout Chicago about Rick Springfield that you were interviewed for. I had no idea that guy had such a history. But, I assume that at this point in junior high, you were into the popular Springfield, the radio hits?
Oh yes, I was just into his popular stuff then, but he had quite an impressive career!
You mentioned that when you were a little kid in elementary school – you could identify the Beatles, does that mean you were into the Beatles at that time too? Was this primarily based on hearing them on the radio or did it have to do with the influence of your parents, older siblings, extended family members, etc outside sources?
I guess it was a parental influence mainly, but I also liked them. That said, I was often confused by the Dave Clark Five and the Knickerbockers – “that ain’t the Beatles?”
Of the bands you mentioned being into in junior high, did you have a favorite?
It’s hard to remember….yeesh my brain.
For the fuck of it, I’ll say that my favorites in junior high were Living Colour, Beatles, Doors, Faith No More, and EMF.
EMF and FNM? OK, we’ll let those slide. I liked worse.
When you look back, do you see any connection between the kinds of music that you liked as a kid and the kinds of music that you like now? Is there an effect that you were drawn to? A sound? A style?
Oh there’s a perfect straight line through it all actually. I think I was drawn to fuzz, hooks, extended jams, dissonance….
I’m just not sure, but I was sure drawn to it… Maybe it was like the fantasy books and comics I was reading, and just lifting me to another place. The midwest is sorta boring/landlocked and all – the mind tends to reach further.
Do you remember a particular song that got you really into music? Or maybe it was an event that did it?
Either the first Velvets lp in high school or the first Floyd album – Piper… When I realized it was a whole different guy’s band – and much more magical.
Finding out that the first couple of Pink Floyd records were awesome was mind-blowing for me. I had no idea!
I can understand being into classic rock as a kid, I was definitely into Beatles, Doors, Donovan, Cream, Who, Hendrix, etc. This was all on account of my parents. And I was always intrigued by the more weirdbeard experiments. I always liked the Doors’ Horse Latitudes cuz it scared the shit outta me. It was so intense. I liked the extended freak outs of the Who on Live at Leeds. The afore mentioned Revolution #9. And definitely when I got a little older Tomorrow Never Knows really blew my mind.
I was always happy to hear the extended freak-out jams, rave ups, any tiny bit of distortion/feedback, etc. So it was like my ears were kind of tuned for the more out stuff and then I think I was lucky cuz I was like 13 or 14 when Nirvana happened and then I got into them and their influences like Sonic Youth. And they just totally blew the door open for me for finding new music throughout my teenage years. How was it that you made the transition from the classic rock bible to the garagey psych Nuggets stuff, and Velvet Underground, Syd Floyd, etc? What was your experience discovering that music?
I think it was just a natural progression, I had like a zillion Doors bootlegs, and then suddenly I’d see a mention of Moby Grape, Love, Electric Prunes or someone in reading about the era and investigate – all this stuff was at my local library too. Nirvana would site bands like the Raincoats, Os Mutantes, Flipper, etc. and I’d check out those too. I was also intrigued by stuff like “Horse Latitudes” – this was DARK!!! And we is all moody kids – ha.
I’ve read that you were so into the Doors, that you got a tattoo of their logo. That’s fucking dedication! One of my favorite albums in high school was the double live Doors disc that was available in the early 90’s. I loved the long versions of their songs where Morrison would break it down, start ranting about something, going on an extended lizard poetry jam, and then the band would build it back up and they’d be rocking out by the end. The weirder it got, the better.
Ah you must speak of Absolutely Live which, has the only full version of The Celebration of The Lizard epic, which was supposed to be on Waiting for the Sun but got axed, they only printed the lyrics and kept Not to Touch the Earth – Jim was pissed. Yes, dedicated Doors fan, got the tat at 17, and I listened to versions of The End every day as a fatalistic youth and checked out Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Dylan Thomas and William Blake cuz of ol’ Jim, a well-read man – if not slightly confused. But shit, he was in his 20s, cut him some slack people! I actually phased them out for a good decade, but am back w/a vengeance. Gimme your Doors boots people!
I’m glad to know that Nirvana was part of your musical odyssey as well. And that you were going to the library to find stuff. I spent a lot of time at the library checking out books about artists, dada, surrealism, modern poets, John Lydon, etc. I would also obsess over liner notes and try to figure out what other people were into, who their influences were. I have Nine Inch Nails to thank for Bowie.
Yeah I was at the library way too much too, I guess we weren’t gettin any, were we? Well, maybe you were. The big one for me was Spacemen 3, who turned me on to so much 60s underground psych via their covers. No matter how much cultural BS is attached to Kurdt, I will always think he was a right on guy.
Agreed about Kurdt – I always liked the liner notes to Inesticide they probably helped form some of my social justice leanings. I definitely wasn’t “getting any” for most of high school either by the way, I was way too shy for such things.
When did you start playing music and why? Did you take lessons – like piano or maybe band in school or something?
Borrowed a roomie’s guitar and flange pedal in college at age 19 and bought my own guitar and wah wah pedal the same year. I wanted to make a Stoogian/Velvets/Shoegaze din. No musical training in the slightest.
Once you started racketing on your guitar was it your intent to start a band from the get-go? Or were you perfectly content to bang out the velvet stooge gaze on your own at first?
I guess I was content to play by myself for a bit, but I tried hooking up w/musicians after a few months or so, just dorm room jams. I could only do so much myself! (Very little actually).
How did you realize that you could make your own music?
The Punk/DIY mentality set in, and I realized enthusiasm and creativity was way more important than chops – I was playing in bands when I only knew one chord. Still am. Bands like Jesus and Mary Chain, The Stooges, Teenage Jesus, and a zillion garage and punk bands paved the way.
Who were some of the punk bands that inspired you and opened your mind to the enthusiasm/creativity way?
Swell Maps, Crime, New York Dolls, Flipper, Subway Sect, the Damned, Slits, the Pop Group, Suicide, Television, etc.
I only got into the Pop Group a few years ago and they totally blew my mind! What was the first band you played in?
Like that played out/a show, or like first jam sessions? I guess my first “real band” was a heavy noiserock thing called “Utopia Carcrash.” We wanted to be like Whitehouse meets Hawkwind. Heavy on the outfits, destroying sculptures. We did play a few sweet gigs with High Rise and Bardo Pond, and many where we cleared the room – I think we even got an art gallery shut down forever.
When was Utopia Carcrash? How long did it last and do you feel like you learned how to be in a band while playing with them? It’s a weird thing to be in a band for the first time. Like being in a relationship for the first time and you have to learn how to communicate and how to give and take and all that. And when it ends, it seems like you’re breaking up. That’s how I felt with my first band anyways.
Utopia Carcrash was like 96-98 or so, and I guess I learned the mechanics of setting up shows, dealing with other people in a band scenario, etc. Unfortunately one [of the people in the band] was my brother and we fought a lot then, and another was a girlfriend and we broke up during the band, so that was interesting. Ha! But we were always improvisational, we never had set songs, maybe just “themes” – not sure how well we communicated though. We sorta all played over each other. But yes, a relationship indeed.
Who were The Unshown? When was that band? And when did you start up PCWS? How did that band come into being? That seems like it’s the longest running of all your projects.
The Unshown was the bass player of the Utopia Carcrash, Ray Donato, aka Apocalypse Vision (formerly of Grout Villa, and now he leads Dark Fog) and on drums Taralie Peterson aka Tar Pet of Spires that in the Sunset Rise. We had skeletons of songs and sorta raged on them, fashioned ourselves “psychedelic power violence” maybe.
Plastic Crimewave Sound was originally “Plastic Crimewave and the Fake” but that name didn’t last long as everyone thought it was 2 bands, and there was already a “Fakes” or two out there. We started in 2001, so this year is our decade anniversary? Nutty. It started as a solo album I was working on, and bringing in various session people – I used Mark Lux on bass and Lawrence Peters on drums for about half the tracks, and we decided to keep at it. Lux and I had tried starting a band before but it never worked out (like 95-97 or so, we had a duo called “Phantom Channel” that just recorded). But yes, definitely the longest running project, tho I’ve gone through like 4-5 guitarists, 4-5 synth players and 2 bass players. Move over Spinal Tap.
Wow, I forgot about Plastic Crimewave and the Fake. I definitely remember seeing that name around. Did you ever release that solo album or is it considered lost at this point? Or maybe it’s the one that you’ll obsess over for the next 40 years until it’s perfect?
It never really got released, unfortunately – I still have dreams of it ending up on vinyl or even cassette?
That brings up something else. How do you feel about this resurgence of the cassette?
Hap-hap-happy – cuz I never gave up the torch, still rock a walkman daily.
How have the lineup changes affected the sound of PCWS over the years? Does the dynamic of the band change too?
The dynamic does indeed change – Cat Chow had a sorta post-punk plinky guitar sound whereas Nick Myers (Vee Dee) made us like some Detroit rock!
You play in a shit ton of bands/groups/ensembles and solo, do you get something different out of each band you play in? A different feeling, expression? Different excitements?
I do get different feelings and expressions/excitements. I’m limited in what I can play, so it’s all shades of grey I guess, but in Gleaming I play acoustic banjo in a large ecstatic drone ensemble; in Solar Fox, just guitar to suit wordless space-soundtracks; Moonrises in generally raging punk/prog; Scum Ra I hope reflects utter bleakness; while the guitar orchestras I do are basically energy-conjuring ceremonies (positive ones) – so yeah I think each indulges a different vibe/mood for me, and I’d still love to have an old-timey jugband, try my hand at psych bluegrass/folk or something – or a straight-up punk band and just rock Greg Ginn-style solos, and maybe a free jazz/improv unit, but there just ain’t time!
Can you talk a bit about what you get out of playing with your own groups versus playing with other peoples’ projects – groups like Yonkers, Acid Mothers projects, Ya Ho Wa, etc?
It is sorta different collaborating w/others, but I’m still kinda limited in what I do, one just hopes the aesthetic gels, and luckily I was on the same page as Yonkers (one or 2 noisy chords into infinity!) and even Djin Aquarian – we all like to “jam”, and not in a technical way! I’ve been blessed to play w/my heroes… Playing w/Damo Suzuki was a highlight of my life too, as well as Steve Mackay, sax player on the Stooges’ Funhouse, my fave rock album of all time!!!
Oh yes, Damo made us all dinner! “Eurasian soul food” he called it! Pumpkin soup! He wouldn’t talk about what we would play at all, it all needed to be spontaneous! Mackay was a sorta surprise to play with luckily (he jumped on stage at a fest in MN) and we did indeed hang when he played my fest. He coughed out a hit so intensely on my couch I actually thought he was gonna have a heart attack! Whew…
How did your relationship with Acid Mothers come about originally? It seems like you guys are pretty tight, they’re always crashing at your place, you’re always playing with them, etc.
I met Makoto from Acid Mothers in 1999, The Unshown opened for them and about a month later I was invited to tour with Mainliner – a more straight ahead acid-punk band with Makoto and legendary svengali Nanjo Asahito of High Rise, who I’d met when Utopia Carcrash played with High Rise a year or so before. I ended up playing in a “supergroup” of sorts called Splendor Mystic Solis (my first ever lp release) featuring Makoto, Nanjo, Sasaki of The Ruins and Shimura Koji of White Heaven, Mainliner, High Rise and now of Acid Mothers, it was quite a ride and I learned a lot.
I set up every Acid Mothers show [in Chicago] from 1999-2003 or so, when they finally got a good booking agent – the Hideout, Fireside, Bottle, etc. PCWS’s first tour was with AMT, we left on 9/11 actually – and it was our 2nd show!
Do you have any favorite experiences with the Acid Mothers folks?
Oh so many – drunken wrestling in Columbus (they love WWF), Makoto showing me where he vandalized the oldest temple in Japan as a youth (!), Cotton Casino passing out on my hard kitchen floor, seeing Makoto break like 6 guitars, finding out Hiroshi runs and screams in his sleep! Tsuyama’s jokes, etc.
Going back to your origin story, was music part of your upbringing? Was your family into music?
Not really, my folks played no musical instruments, but at least we always had the oldies station on. I inherited very few decent records from my P’s, a lot of Judy Collins and Simon and Garfunkel – snooore… But my cool aunt gave me Hendrix Smash Hits, Byrds 5D, etc.
Your brother has played with you in PCWS and plays solo jams as well, do you guys influence each other? Did you get along growing up? Did you help hip each other to new sounds?
We (largely) got along, and were into the same stuff always, comics, music, etc – as the older brother I guess I was probably pushing into new things sooner, but he hips me to all kinds of stuff now, he’s a fierce internet finder.
Where did you grow up by the way? Did the environment have any impact/influence on your creative tendencies and exposure to music?
I grew up in the average suburbs of Des Plaines and Hoffman Estates, which did have one of the only punk rock music stores around, the Turntable. Otherwise it was flea markets and garage sales, which did yield some gems on occasion.
I feel like for me, growing up in the suburb/small town of Woodstock kind of galvanized me. Like it affected my way of thinking and encouraged me to try to do something that I felt was worthwhile and important. It was like I established myself and what I wanted out of life in opposition to what I perceived as the lameness of my surroundings, the squareness of the residents and most of my peers. I felt like I had to get the fuck out and do something awesome or become trapped! Teenage life is so dramatic. But, I feel like it was this, and my luck of friends, that inspired me to get into zines and fucking around with making primitive music. Does any of this ring true for you and your experience? Or did you have a totally different perspective?
I’m with ya 100% brother, it saddens me to see old classmates who just stayed in the burbs and started procreating…sigh… But I knew I wanted to be an artist at age 3, and some aren’t that lucky, or didn’t have cushy suburban leisure time to find their muse. Some good apple pickin in Woodstock though, no?
We definitely went apple picking every fall when I was growing up. All sorts of little mom and pop apple orchards around there.
Over time have you developed any sort of philosophy to your music, to your creative process in general? Is there some sort of spirituality to it? Mysticism? Belief? Goals?
All that. Music is a spiritual exploration for me. When I stop learning something about myself, my instrument, and maybe even sound each time I play, I’ll stop playing. It’s not just for fun, fame, chicks, to “be cool” or to kinda just rip off something I like. The late great Captain Beefheart said god was a perfect musical note, and I’m inclined to agree. It certainly is a cosmic force – vibrations you can’t see or touch, that have been used for ceremonial purposes for centuries – healing, trances, historical documentation, and yeah entertainment.
I keep myself a primitive/feel-based enough player so that everything is largely intuitive, and hope that out of those restrictions something new and interesting happens. I also like turning technology back on itself, i.e. – what are the ugliest sounds all these machines and metal boxes will make? Is it transcendent? Does it speak of the world? Are there swirling colors in the toxic oil puddle in the parking lot?
It seems like the guitarkestra project is rooted in this spiritual exploration. This sort of intuitive, open to everyone, collective improvisation based on one chord that you’ve billed as a mystical experience with the possibility of levitation. Based on your response it would seem like there’s more to these claims than just promotional hyperbole. Not that you necessarily truly believe in physical levitation or anything…
And speaking of, do you remember when you first had the inspiration for the guitarkestra? It possibly seems like a mish-mash of Sun Ra, Alan Silva and Rhys Chatham – which is a fabulous combo as far as I’m concerned.
I tried to do a guitarkestra in like 98 but the club shut down (Roby’s anyone?) definitely modeled on loose devotional ensembles like the Arkestra, Alan Silva’s projects, Cornelius Cardew’s Scratch Orchestra, and yeah Chatham/Branca… But I tried to work a bit of chaos magick in there and focus the crowd’s energy on a sigil for positive change – at the first one folks puked, cried, kissed, handed each other their guitars, etc – I felt it was a “happening” which was key.
In all of your musical experiences over the years are there a few moments that stand out as being favorites? Something transcendent? A perfect event?
Well playing with Damo and the all-star band including Johnny Herndon of Tortoise, David Daniell, etc was a high point in my life – I was buzzing with electricity/excitement – we played for 2 hrs straight, touching on Can-like moments of driving punk-psych, spacey reggae (!) and pure avant experimentation. I could’ve died happy falling off the stage.
It seems like you are way interested in the history of the things you are into, be it art, music, whatever. Is this something you’ve always been interested in, even as a kid? Were you always digging into the roots of things?
Oddly yes – I was always interested where things came from, I mean Citizen Kane was my favorite movie in 6th grade. With comics especially I dug back to Winsor McCay, Krazy Kat etc. and I always wanted to know what bands the bands I liked were covering, and what were rock critics’ and movie critics’ most celebrated films (even if I sorta hate critics – haw).
I guess it started w/my Galactic Zoo mag in 1995, I knew I wanted to combine my love of comics, 60s music history, and other arcana – it sorta was a natural culmination of all things I’d been interested in.
How did you hook up with WGN to begin producing radio segments for Secret History?
They interviewed me as a guest when the strip first hit, and we hit it off so well they decided to make it a regular segment.
An old friend (Aaron where are you? Oh – LA) mentioned it, but I never had time, but when I finally went “freelance” (aka got fired from my job – heh) I finally had time! I have a good relationship w/the Empty Bottle and they agreed to fund such a venture, so….
Have there been any challenges that you’ve come up against when organizing an event on such a scale? Do you have any help with the organizational side of things, or is it primarily a solo endeavor?
It’s definitely a challenge mentally and often physically. By day two of my first five day fest I was totally knackered! It’s also a challenge to make it work financially and yet have “obscure” or “progressive” artists.
Do you have any goals/dreams for the festival? Any musicians/bands you’d love to have play?
I have so many dream performers – I recently failed to get Daevid Allen of Gong and Peter Daltrey of Kaleidoscope UK…sigh… But now working on Linda Perhacs and Floris Kolvenbach of way-underrated Dutch psych band The Dream/Mothers Love.
I imagine it’s tough to find a good balance of the more obscure/progressive and the artists that are more known to a larger audience that will get bodies in the door. It’s also interesting to think about what constitutes the difference between the two in this case because you’re working within an already fairly obscure segment of music/art – to the general public at least. It’s not like you’re organizing a festival where you have a headliner like Radiohead and then you can throw in a few more out groups.
It is tough! Terms like “big underground act” or “commercial avant garde band” are just contradictions in themselves.
You’ve had some truly amazing artists play at the festival, people who have helped change music – Tony Conrad, Jack Rose, Bert Jansch, Smegma, Terry Reid, etc. How does your contact with these artists come about? Do you do all of your booking through word of mouth? Do you have to go through official channels? Does this process get easier as time goes on?
I’ve used every channel you can imagine – friends, friends of friends, blind e-mailing/phoning, booking agents, label contacts, etc. It does sorta get easier, cuz sometimes they find me now!
On a total side note, just cuz I’m curious, have you met Julian Cope? Or chatted with him or anything? From what I can tell you guys seem like kindred spirits – students of forgotten music/art history, professional nerds, always learning and sharing what you find, etc.
We’ve e-mailed a bunch, he flipped for Plastic Crimewave Sound’s first record and for my mag, and wrote a really nice gonzo review for his site. He dangled a carrot of going on tour with him in Scandinavia once, but it didn’t happen…sigh… He’s quite a nutter, that Druid!
Are there any bands that are blowing your mind these days? Current people that totally move you, inspire you to new places?
Oh sure, heavier/proggy bands like Danava, Ga’an and La Otracina. Folksters like Josephine Foster and Angel Olsen. Free jazzers like Tiger Hatchery. Metallic noisepunks like Cacaw and Bad Drugs. Modern synth-soundscapers like Alex Barnett and Brett Naucke. This amazing drone/noise/celtic (?) band from Canada, Menace Ruine. This soundtracky/prog band from France, Aquaserge. And longtime psychsters like Bardo Pond, The Heads, etc who are still going strong!
So let’s move on to visual art. When did you first become interested in art? Do you remember a first instance of creating something and thinking, holy shit! Art rules! Was there something that inspired you?
I guess my mom said I was drawing by age 3, but I don’t remember! I know a few pivotal comic books and MAD mag were key, as well as Mercer Mayer, Richard Scarry and other children’s book illustrators – even those Lee j. Ames Draw 50… books!
I totally had a few of those Draw 50… books. Although, aside from a few tries, never really got into drawing.
Lee J. Ames didn’t hook ya in with his easy method? I always skipped steps myself.
From 2nd to 4th grade I almost exclusively drew in Don Martin’s style! Later on, around 5th grade comic artists like Neal Adams, John Byrne and George Perez dazzled me.
Do you remember what it was about their styles that dazzled you? Also what titles/storylines were these?
I liked Neal’s “realistic” yet very 60s style, and inventive panel layouts, especially his iconic Batman tales, Deadman and X-Men/Avengers cosmic stuff. The simplicity and crispness of Byrne, and his homages to Ditko/Kirby on Fantastic 4, X-Men, Marvel team-Up, etc. Perez – the shininess and tons of detail, I was majorly into his New Teen Titans in the 80s.
How did you first discovered comics? Who were your favorite artists? Favorite titles? What was it about them excited you?
Well, my grandpa would buy them for me at like age three, when I worshipped the Hulk mainly (TV show and all) and then there was this garage sale where I got a 70s Batman w/the Shadow, and that got me into buying “back issues” cuz I was awestruck by him. I wasn’t so aware of artists yet, but looking back I was drawn to Jim Aparo, Wally Wood, even old Shelly Moldoff and Curt Swan.
HULK! I used to love that show, but never got into the comic. When I got older and worked at the comic store I did love Kirby’s Hulk. I love how Kirby drew the physically big guys. Who were you awestruck by – Batman or the Shadow? Also, how awesome that your grandpa was hooking you up with comics!
I’m partial to Hulk all around, Herb Trimpe’s version is pretty definitive too, but very Kirby-influenced. Ditkos’s early Hulk is sorta underrated too. I loved Batman always, but The Shadow really turned me on to the more mysterious occult-based 40s vibe, even to radio shows and pulp magazines, which I still love. Yeah my grandpa was pretty cool, he’d walk like a mile to Larry’s Comics on Devon for me… Awww.
That is sweet. You mentioned earlier that you were drawn to fantasy books and comics. Do you remember some of the authors and books that you were drawn to? Which stuck out to you most? And which do you feel had the most profound impact on you?
Oh nothing too radical, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, Anne McCaffrey….
I’ll confess to my insane nerd love of Tolkien! I’m still reading his stuff. I also read Narnia books as a kid. I never got into Lloyd Alexander and Anne McCaffrey though. My loss?
Naw, Alexander and McCaffrey are for youngsters who can’t find enough Tolkien I’d say. Couldn’t get into CS Lewis, don’t know why.
Maybe it was the religious overtones?
I read that you supposedly discovered psychedelia while studying painting at UIUC, is that true? Having talked with you, it seems your discovery of the psychedelic happened much earlier than that. What does this mean? Did psych really derail your dreams of becoming a comic book artist?
Well I was into Cream, Beatles, Doors, Hendrix and stuff when I was in like grades 8-10, but I don’t think it ever really hit me that it was “psychedelic” or what that even was. I guess I got into the Velvets and Nuggets comps in high school, slightly before college… but I didn’t really delve deep or make it my main cause til college – Syd Barrett was pretty key for that.
Well, psych and finally discovering GIRLS.
Are you still painting? And when you paint, do you draw on a different set of influences than comics? Are there different challenges that arise when you paint versus when you are making comics?
Oh definitely more challenges, cuz I really have no idea how to paint, I ignored all the rules in art school. I painted an album cover a little while back, but that is rare. I know I like things pretty flat, colorful and pop art, no illusion of depth type shit, there’s cameras for that now. I don’t paint often I guess.
How did you first get into zines and self publishing?
You know, I have no idea. I guess I was drawing my own complete comics by 3rd grade. I didn’t know there were copy machines so I drew multiple copies for friends! Underground comics were a big inspiration by the end of high school and I had access to a copier in my dad’s office. And then a few other hook-ups at Kinko’s and the U of I printing facility – that really inspired me, having the means to print for free! Not sure I ever saw a real zine til after college, but I figured out they were out there fast, via mags like Factsheet 5. My first two proper zines were Blissed-Out Funnies (some of which was cannibalized for GZD #1) and Psychedelic Comics.
I first got inspired to make zines in high school after I watched Pump up the Volume. I originally wanted to make a pirate radio station, but after going to the library to read up on the how to, I realized that it was fucking impossible! After that idea was put on the back burner I came across mini-comics and zines and realized that a zine was in the realm of possibility.
Wow, gosh darn it I will admit Pump up the Volume was big for me too, I did an underground paper in high school that wasn’t exactly a zine, well – shit it was based on wanting to be a rebel like ol Christian S., and not having a ham radio either! I watched it again recently, and wow, the movie is pretty cheesy. First time I heard Kick Out the Jams too… Ha.
I found a cheap dvd of Pump up the Volume a couple of years ago and thought I’d rewatch it and hang on to it for sentimental value. But, fuck, that movie did not age well. I guess it’s of its time. Cheesy is right.
Well I never made any money, consignment was a total pain in the ass, and in pre-internet times getting the word out and distributing was hard! Plus they used to come with cassettes and that made packaging difficult and lumpy.
What is your process for GZD, the steps from start to finish?
Do we have an hour here? Ha. Well let’s see. I conduct interviews and I read comics for a few years. In the comics I find the little bits that I xerox and ultimately comment on and make into little features. For the articles/interviews I tend to do all the illustrations first then fill in with text later, same with trading cards. Then there’s compiling the CD from various cassettes, cds, lps, etc and adjusting levels/fidelity/etc. Soliciting for ads, getting contributors to turn in their stuff on time. Usually I draw the cover first, but somehow not on the one I’m working on now. Then I usually check with Drag City to make sure they can publish it! Ha! But then there’s proofreading, the scanning of the art, coloring the cover with the graphic designer, looking over proofs, and then helping collate the actual mag, cards and cd. Whew.
How has your process changed over time?
They used to be a lot thinner! And I had lame jobs that I could work on them at!
When you first started out, how did you distribute GZD?
Just through mail-order and bringing it around to record/zine/comic stores. I’d always send copies to publications for review, from zine bible Factsheet 5 to kindred psychy mags like Ptolemaic Terrascope. Reviews sure helped.
And do you prefer having Drag City handle the distribution/business side of things?
Yes! Consignment is a huge drag (lost slips, mags, etc) and I always lost money before.
I definitely agree about consignment being a pain in the ass. And distribution in general is a big reason of what turned me off of self publishing. So much work!
Is there anything that you miss about handling everything yrself?
I still oddly have a love affair with the postal system, but folks still order mags and such off my site, and that jones is fulfilled.
What have you learned from producing GZD for all these years? About the nuts and bolts of publishing, about the subject matter, about your art, process, psych, etc?
Oh wow, a ton I guess. How much work actually goes into it all. Who to trust (I had other publishers flake), and tons from interviewing artists and researching them. And of course every time I draw, I figure out a lil trick or two, or I wouldn’t keep doing it. It’s still discovery for me.
Are there any zines/mags that you’re currently reading that inspire you?
As far as current stuff, I like Avi Spivak’s Human Being Lawnmower, Frankie Delmane’s Trash, Leslie Stein’s stuff, glossy music nerd mags like Shindig! and Ugly Things, but I mainly still look at old ‘zines Psyche Pscene, Crawdaddy, Sounds, etc.
And now for some kind of random questions. If it’s not too personal, or trade secretish, what is the origin of your moniker – Plastic Crimewave? The rumor is it involves Canadian psych and a Daredevil villain…
Not so secret…Yes, 60s Canadian dark psych-pop band Plastic Cloud was a partial inspiration, I liked the idea of something nebulous (or actually gaseous) being plastic, something that could never be plasticized basically, like the rest of the world generally has been. Crimewave is an obscure early 70s Daredevil villain, who wasn’t terribly impressive but was well-rendered by Gene Colan, and had a sweet purple and green costume, my fave color combo really.
I’m a vegetarian, so I’m curious, when did you become a vegan? Did you transition from vegetarian? What were your reasons for doing this?
I’ve been vegetarian for nearly 20 years, and vegan for about 15. I simply had some stomach issues at the time, and cut out dairy and the problem solved itself. I’ve never turned back. I was never a big “drink a big glass of milk” guy anyhow, but yeah, loved cheese – and most soy cheeses are pretty damn awful. I really don’t miss it though.
As always, cheese. That’s one of the things that I think I would miss the most if I ever went vegan. Ice cream too. I think I could do it, but it would be hard. Is it tough to be a vegan when your out on tour? I feel like it’s rough enough just being a vegetarian on a road trip, caught in between destinations, when Subway is the best bet and a Panera sounds like heaven.
It can be a tough diet to maintain on tour for sure, sometimes your options are just a damn gas station’s cuisine, but when in a pinch I just do the best I can. I’m not too anal or preachy about any of it. Those magic moments when a falafel joint appears are like the seas parting sometimes though.
In an interview you did with Kid Millions, you mentioned that you have some feminist ideals; is this something that you feel is important? Do you consider yrself a feminist? For the record, I am a feminist.
Ha, I probably said “HAD feminist ideals…” No, that’s not true. I used to elevate women above men, because I was so repulsed by the entire alpha male thing and women seemed more in touch with their feelings, expressive sides, etc. Now I’ve just come to the conclusion it’s just PEOPLE in general who are fucked up, men and women, in pretty equal numbers. Society might be largely to blame, but that is irrelevant, humans have been oppressing each other since the dawn of time. However, I will say that when men get together in large numbers (corporations, sports teams, fraternities, armies, governments, death squads, secret fraternal organizations, hate groups, etc.) you generally better run (but the occasional comic book convention is ok).
Dudes certainly love a con! Especially if they can dress up.
Can’t get enough Steve Krakow? Make sure to check these out for more info:
home of pcw
home of plastic crimewave sound
yes he does wikipedia
steve talking about his show at the mca chicago
interview in the chicago reader.
interview with foxy digitalis
plastic crimewave vs wolfmother
south by southwest interview
crucial interview with kid millions