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Angry Samoans | interview | Metal Mike Saunders | Gregg Turner | rock | Lollipop
An Interview with Metal Mike Saunders and Gregg Turner
by Jon Sarre
When people tell ya a band is like a four-way marriage, they ain't kiddin', 'specially when it comes to the divorce. It's been almost ten years since two of the prime Angry Samoans (okay, obligatory "relevance check," for those of you who are clueless and don't know this band right off the cuff [and shame on you], their shit's been covered by Foo Fighters, The Muffs, The Queers, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Teengenerate, Mudhoney, etc), Mike Saunders and Gregg Turner, have spoken and, to put it delicately, there're still "issues" 'tween 'em. Charges that've been flung back and forth like carelessly tossed fish include alleged financial malfeasance, alleged mental instability, alleged splitting L.A. with nary a forwarding address, alleged alien abduction... "Alleged" bein' the operative term here as neither Samoan seems to agree on the version of most events, as you'll soon see.
Take into consideration that Saunders and Turner are still far enough apart to scotch any and all requests (by Lollipop, anyhow) for a joint interview, out of the fuckin' question. They did, however, consent to be recorded as they separately ranted at length (hour plus with Gregg, three-and-a-half hours plus email follow-ups with Metal Mike). Here it is: two days, same questions, different answers: Angry Samoans, their earlier VOM gig with Rock Crit extraordinaire Richard Meltzer, their bandmates, Mike's current no-Gregg-no-other-mainstay-bassist-Todd-Homer Samoans and Gregg's newish band, The Blood Drained Cows.
Pre-Samoans, you guys were both writing for Creem in the early '70s, right?
Mike: Let it be duly noted that I have Radio Disney playin' in the background so I'll bark out at key... they're playin' "The Monkees' Theme" right now... on weekends they play half oldies and half Disney Top 40, not CHR Top 40, but Disney Top 40.
Gregg: Yeah, Mike wrote for 'Stone and the Phonograph Record before I started writing. He was a great writer... he's a very talented guy... well, I met him, um... the two things that brought us together were Roky Erickson and The Dictators, and I'd read Saunders in print, but it was Greg Shaw of Bomp! Magazine who suggested I look him up cuz I was interested in the Thirteenth Floor Elevators. Mike went to interview Roky when he was in the mental institution in the early '70s, but it broke down and I guess they wouldn't give him access... but he stole a copy of his psychiatric report, which is amazing cuz on the record it says, "we diagnose Mr. Erickson as psychotic-schizophrenic with paranoid tendencies, witness the slides of 'Nazi Astrobodies' that Mr. Erickson shows."
Constellations of Goebbels and Hitler?
Mike: That guy's a fuckin' liar. It's in county records down at the courthouse (in Austin, TX), you can go down and Xerox it... When (Roky) got out of the looney tune, he had this book of poetry which he was trying to pass off as Christian poetry -- he'd flip the words, y'know, the Satan-God thing. No one knew at the time, they say, "Oh, Roky's got religion!" The records were accessible to the public, because he was in a county facility and I didn't keep one for myself. I sent 'em out. I sent one to Greg Shaw at the Phonograph Record for his collection of interesting paraphernalia.
Gregg: That immediately gave us a common denominator and the other thing which was a cult bonding was The Dictators. Saunders had a demo tape cuz he was corresponding with Andy Shernoff.
Mike: That was the first thing I pitched to Gregg, "Hey man, have ya heard The Dictators?" He was very impressed, havin' a hard garage background... he was a heavy-duty record collector type... he would make these field trips to neighboring states. The Gregg connection was totally The Dictators, (that) and the Elevators -- he was a huge fan. And we had another mutual bond; we both thought Black Sabbath was totally killer.
Gregg: I started hangin' out with Saunders... he'd take his guitar and he'd play these fake Mark Bolan songs through his stereo.
Mike: I could take any song and play it in the Mark Bolan style.
Gregg: I mean, I realized he was a little weird. It never occurred to me that he was totally insane. In any case, we decided to goof off and do a band. The first thing became VOM where Meltzer was involved. Mike (who drummed in VOM) came up with a lot of the songs, then Meltzer, after two years, burned out. VOM was the only band other than The Doors to be thrown off the stage at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go.
>Mike: The first VOM show was an assault between the audience and the band. Turner's dad was a uh... he had connections in the school district where he worked and he got us all kinds of fuckin' stuff from the science lab. Meltzer and Turner had boxes fulla live crickets, some kinda eyes, bronchial worms... so at one point (French-born Slash Magazine scribe), Claude ("KickBoyFace" Bessy)'s girlfriend gets thrown out... Gregg was stranglin' her with the mic cord... Kickface's gettin' thrown out, Meltzer yells "get that fuckin' frog outta here! This is America!" That was VOM opening for the Dickies...
Gregg: Around '77, '78, Meltzer announced to everyone that he was exhausted and told us he'd had enough and thought it was wise we throw in the towel before we made complete asses of ourselves. We were anyway, but it was amazing what kind of press we were getting because of his name. At that point, it was just dead in the water and in fact...
Mike: Richard had this song and dance about how his knees were bothering him and he'd seen the top... So VOM was no more and no one can use the name.
Gregg: I went to Mike and said "Let's take a break but continue. We have some really great songs in the same vein." He said, "Nah, I've had it. I'm not going to do it anymore." It took me begging him, or at least coaxing him, for a few weeks before he entertained the idea, and at that point, he and I worked out (stuff) and found Billy (Vockeroth, drums) and Todd (Homer, bass) through the Recycler, the classifieds, and Kevin (Saunders, Mike's brother) was hangin' around and we played Dictators and Kiss covers the whole time. At this point, if I could hold one chord on the guitar, I was lucky.
Mike: T claims Kevin Saunders was "hanging around????" I recruited him from 2,000 miles away for the specific purpose of starting a band... Turner and I definitely wanted to continue post VOM (with our favorite VOM songs), but there was no operative plan in motion until Kevin showed up from Arkansas...
So this is what...?
Mike: Gregg Turner usually has a 50/50 chance, at best, of having any relation to reality. At last count, he couldn't even get the year (or venue) of the Samoans' first gig correct. Considering it was in Green Day's (Billy Joe's) hometown, Rodeo, on Halloween, Saturday night, with Roky Erickson and The Aliens, that's pretty darned hard to forget. And, on top of that, on that Halloween Saturday night, the Kiss TV movie, Phantom in the Park, first aired!
Gregg: This is 1978, so it evolved... and then it got serious and we did a number of gigs, '78, '79, either for friends or like Club 88 for 19 people... We never figured that it would evolve into anything popular, it was basically to make fun of people and the culture of Hollywood and L.A. that we couldn't stand.
Mike: On one hand, it was really cool that our original band was at the exact place and time where hardcore punk was about to happen, unbeknownst to anybody. On the other hand, given the kind of bubblegum leanings we might've had, given another time or town, we might've turned into the Ohio fucking Express.
Gregg: So there was enough vitriol between me and Mike to last a long time, and we got along perfectly on that level and had a great time writing songs and laughing. Those are my fond memories... "This is funny, who gives a fuck?"
I sorta have the impression that the conflict started right away...
Mike: (on the Samoans' first record, Inside My Brain) Lee (Ving, of Fear, listed in the credits as "producer") was primarily Sgt. At Arms and stood behind the mixing board as a benign presence, hardly saying a word... (He) left about two hours before the end, figuring if we hadn't started any intra-band fistfights by then, we were safe from each other.
Gregg: No, I don't think so (waxes for a while on "historical revisionism" on the part of Mike and brother Kevin).
So, how did you get along with Todd (Homer)?
Gregg: No one gets along with Todd. Meltzer's great quote regarding Todd in the band was right after "(The Ballad of) Jerry Curlan" came out. When we did that take in the studio, Mike wasn't in the band (Jeff Dahl replaced Saunders for some time [exact dates are disputed, believe it or not]). There was one vocal take, which is what you hear, and after that, he almost swallowed the microphone. He was almost convulsing he was so loaded. He was drunk out of his mind. We had to pull the mic out of his face. I mean, it was his one and only vocal take, and what he sounds like is what he looked like in the vocal booth... Todd was Todd... Meltzer said "once he loses his frozen adolescence, it's gonna be ugly and all over." Todd could be very sweet and the next moment, it would be Jeckyl to Hyde to Hyde squared. Unlike Mike, who was sort of half insane, maybe more sometimes and very difficult to deal with when his ego was involved, Todd was more of this pent-up self-hatred and anger. It just wore me down.
Mike: Todd is the guy to ask. A lot of people would say... I dunno, psychology's not my food, but a lot of people would say that Todd might've been a certifiable paranoid -- him against the world, if you're not with him, you're against him. Kind of a character right out of a Phillip K. Dick book.
It's amazing you guys kept the band together for close to fifteen years, it just sounds like one big... nightmare.
Gregg: It was an ongoing cesspool of bad vibes, but there were good moments. It wasn't like people hated each other, trying to kill each other every second, it was just at peak moments. It became like, "Where's the cyanide?" The reason it lasted so long was we rehearsed once a month and played one weekend a month. We never toured. If we toured back East, it was like, a week, ten days. We'd do the Pacific Northwest, up through Spokane, Portland, Vancouver... that kinda thing. It wasn't like we had to be with each other on the road for a long time, cuz if we had, then there woulda been deaths...
Mike: Let's see, Bill and Todd never got along, Todd and Gregg, towards the end was a total war... uh... Todd and me? Todd was really pissed at me after 1980 because I left town (Mike left L.A. for Oakland, where he resides to this day, for "career purposes"). I was kinda his dad figure. I was the oldest guy in the band, he was the youngest... I fought less with Todd than with anyone else in the band... before he quit the band -- or announced his ultimatum -- which was "You fire Turner, or I'm quitting."
I don't disagree with anyone (in the band) who claims it was as bad as it can be (for continual fights and arguments). At one point or another, everyone locked heads with everyone. In a five-man lineup, this would cover nine possible mano-a-manos. Plus group battles of as many two-on-one and three-on-one "let's pick on someone else" tag teams. Ever play in a band with three Scorpios? I did.
When was the band's peak?
Gregg: In terms of our following, the peak was '85 or '86. In terms of quality, it was as a four-piece, down from a five-piece, in the last two or three years after we'd gotten rid of Todd. Mike and I were able to do what we wanted, which was Roky Erickson and Saints, that kind of stuff... It was the best we'd ever sounded, right after STP.
How'd that play, when you went from the stuff on Back From Samoa in '82 to Yesterday Started Tomorrow in '86?
Gregg: Well, Brain was how it ended up.
Like full circle?
Mike: Brain is completely different from the records that followed. Yesterday Started Tomorrow and STP Not LSD were, respectively, straight garage and straight garage-psych-material, exactly intended by the songwriters Mike/Todd/Gregg. The old cliché goes that most of the '70s, '80s, and '90s bands' first record is the best... That's definitely true in our case (the long-version reissue of Brain, which is the material we would've recorded/issued if we had more money in 1980).
Gregg: Samoa came about, and it just sorta evolved over a three year period. Mike left the band, Jeff Dahl was the lead singer for at least a year and a half, two years... For those songs, Dahl contributed more than he's given credit for, not that it's such a masterpiece of any kind, but if there's a stamp on that kind of obnoxiousness, (he) pushed things forward. The trouble was Dahl, as a lead singer, wanted to be Iggy Pop and Jim Morrison, and that was never the vision that Mike and I had. We were more into being detached than in your face. Then we started liking it, so we wrote more songs like that. We recorded a lot of that stuff...
Mike: They made only one attempt at recording with Jeff Dahl (Dahl was definitely in for less than twelve months)... It was a complete disaster and the only track that was used/finished was "The Ballad of Jerry Curlan." T garbles the odyssey as if there was a finished album and all I did was redo Dahl's vocals. Truth is, there were exactly three finished tracks (that made it to the album) when I got involved in the LP...
Gregg: Then, I forget, we didn't kick Jeff out, but we phoned Mike up and asked him back... We erased Jeff's vocals and put Mike's on, and after that, the whole thing exploded. College radio on the East Coast started playing the stuff all the time, this promoter flew us out to play the Channel in Boston...
Mike: We got serious airplay in places like Boston, but they didn't play anything specific. The record didn't have a hit. The production was a bit dodgy... You tell me what the fuckin' hit is? The only two minute songs are "The Ballad of Jerry Curlan" -- can't play that on the radio -- and "Time Has Come Today" which is kinda lame.
That was '83?
There was alla that Baustin' Hahdcohh.
Gregg: Yeah. SSD Control opened for us, but we had to travel with Todd... Oh my God! It was one thing after another...
Gimmie a couple examples.
Gregg: Well, we used to stay in Omni's or Hiltons... Not that we were making lots of money... We were always broke, and Mike was pathologically cheap, like most accountants I know. I mean, pathologically, he counts pennies. He says one day, "I don't think this is fair. You're not considering my feelings." I say, "What do you want?" He says, "I don't wanna stay in this hotel, I don't like it here..." So he finds some place called Overnight With Soul in the ghetto, this is in Washington, DC... that kind of stuff. He and I used to joke that the great thing about the Elevators or Roky and The Aliens was that the frontman was legitimately insane and people pick up on that in a second, it's so much more interesting... And that's what started happening and I was the caretaker. It was absurd and it got worse and worse and worse... For instance, we had our last show at Club Lingerie, we did a soundcheck, and the sound guy comes over to me and goes, "Are you done with your check?" I say, "Yeah." This is ten minutes after we get off the stage... And he goes, "Well, tell your singer." I go up to the stage and Saunders is there in the spotlight, untying and tying and untying and tying his shoelace. I said, "Mike, what's goin' on?" "Well, this is where the spotlight is... In case my shoelace gets loose during our set, I have to practice tying." "Can't you do it off stage?" "No, it's not the same spotlight." There are millions of things like that!
I realize you're not a psychologist, but why would he do that?
Gregg: One theory is there could be medication to help him. Let's just put it that way...
You really think Mike's a little... off? Libel lawyers take note: no one's suggesting he's insane.
Gregg: I don't know the pathology... He's competent enough that he can hold a job, and he's competent enough that he can run a band or do things he wants to do... He can drive from point A to point B, although he's been in like 15 traffic accidents, he's just a little disconnected... There're a few things missing, he's not quite there...
Mike: Libel? Let's see, Toiner (in a Creem Magazine half page, around 1989, I guess) informed the world that Mike and Todd were "mentally ill." I'm also supposedly "nuts" and "psycho." Hey, what about crazy? Don't I get to be crazy? 90% of the "stories" he tells about Todd or me are complete hallucinations, never happened. Or simply factually wacko. I've been in two serious (no fault) auto accidents in my life, run into and my car totaled in 1981 and 1991.
What about Gregg, Mike?
Mike: Everyone else in the band claims GT was allegedly an alleged "chronic liar" (but you'd have to get their exact words). Jeez, beats me. My problem with the guy from the minute there was money floating around (1982) was that he was a lowlife. As in the category of scammers, crooks and thieves. I should probably use the word "alleged"... But I'd be happy to show the paperwork to anyone who gives a darn. If Eric Burdon & The Animals 1964-1965 were one of the fightin'est bands ever, for similar reasons, then we had our Alan Price! Differences being: The Animals had real money being internally fleeced, but even Price never tried to scam the band's entire publishing company from day one. Do I have to keep using the word allegedly? I believe canceled checks trump the word "alleged" anyday...
Gregg: Todd, meanwhile, was just explosive anger, rage... Like he was allergic to alcohol, so two beers would be like twenty tequila shots... You'd always anticipate that he'd be in a rage about something, always with his feeling hurt... He was really into people like... You know who Albert Fish was? He was this grandfatherly type in the '50s who cannibalized about seventy children. Todd was infatuated with Ed Gein, with Albert Fish, he started corresponding with John Wayne Gacy and he's telling (Todd) how he does clown paintings and says, "Todd, you sound like a nice young boy."
Mike: Sure, why not? I recall Todd getting a little jumpy when (Gacy) made overtures to him. "Hey, when I get out of prison, can I look you up?"
Gregg: Todd's flattering him, like "you're my idol." I forget what the circumstances were, but Todd sends him a photo of himself and Gacy sends him back one of his clown paintings with the clown bending over and someone approaching the clown from behind and over the clown's face is Todd's photo. It was entitled "My Boy Todd." And Todd looks at this... "What the hell is this guy thinking? That fuckin' asshole!" It's like, "Well, he's just sort of a homosexual mass murderer! Is that a good enough reason, Todd?" "There's no reason he should take these liberties!" He just never got it. But there was the funny side to Todd... Still, it just got to the point of "Why?" Plus, I got out of grad school (Gregg is a math prof in New Mexico these days) in '91...
So I take it you're not missin' it too much...
Gregg: I'm not missing that, I'm not missing it. The (Blood Drained) Cows thing was just a goof... Fuck it, maybe rock'n'roll has had it's time.
Whatever comes next comes next? Are you gonna do anything else with the Cows?
Gregg: Maybe, I don't know. I don't imagine it getting to the point where we get too concerned with touring or anything like that... I do a lot of solo stuff...
(The Blood Drained Cow's self-titled LP) was a pretty fun record. It sounded like a continuation of what Angry Samoans were doing circa STP Not LSD.
Gregg: Probably because... what the Samoans were all about was a '60s garage band with a sense of humor that was trying not to take itself too seriously...
Mike: The drummer is really good. The material was shorthanded, maybe three or four good originals? The stuff is definitely right in the STP Not LSD genre. Jeez, he's recorded "Stranded in Some Other Time" on three different records by now... I really like the 1988 (unreleased? Samoans') Mistaken 7-song 12". If you combined that and the best five cuts on here you'd have a really good full-length.
Have you heard the new Angry Samoans record (The '90s Suck and So Do You)?
Gregg: I have it, but I haven't gotten around to listening to it.
Have you heard some of the other stuff Mike's done (assorted EPs, singles, etc)?
Gregg: Some of it. A lot of it is stuff he tried to sell us in the Samoans. Beyond the apathy I have towards him, he's incredibly prolific, he's written hundreds of songs... and he's a very funny guy. It's just his sense of need and ego... I don't harbor any hatred toward the guy.
What do you think is the legacy of the Samoans?
Gregg: When you think that Foo Fighters have done "Gas Chamber" and the Bosstones have done "Lights Out"... the legacy, I think when you look at the era of all that, I think we were a clever (combination) of what came earlier, and we didn't take ourselves too seriously. The legacy would be a celebration of autism. Two or three major bands doing cover songs and you talking to me as if this matters would've blown me away twenty years ago.
Mike: "Legacy" is a lame word and bands don't get to vote their case anyway. But I'll grade our records if you insist: 10, 8, 6 and 6 (the four '80s 12" records; the test pressing of STP gets an 8.5, all actual retail pressings/issues except the quite similar Jem/PVC cassette gets a 4 or worse). These grades don't look so hot, I guess. But I'm a tough grader. Here's The Who's first four: 10+, 4, 2, 0 (actually Tommy should be negative if such a grade were possible). See! We don't suck nearly as bad as The Who! Two good records to their one!