You may be aware that Kicker of Elves recently announced he had found his new favourite band in the form of Philadelphia based act Graham Repulski. So taken was he that he has spent the bulk of the year (and his salary) getting hold of the band’s full back catalogue on a combination of LP, 7″ single, 6 CDs and 6 tape cassettes.
He has also thought up a whole bunch of questions to ask GR himself and rather than sending these messages direct to delete (as most people do), Graham kindly decided to stay up all night to answer them. This is what he had to say…
Hi. Graham. How the hell are you?
Couldn’t be better. The new album is officially “out” this week, I’ve got four more ready to roll, and another half dozen or so projects in the works. That’s always a good feeling. Only 20 more albums and I’ll be done, for now.
Can you tell us who is in the band Graham Repulski and how you got together?
It’s me. When it started in 2009, a lot of the bands I had associated with over the years were crapping out and for the Graham Repulski project I had started out using some of the guys from those bands to fill in the gaps on bass and drums and whatnot. The intention was to eventually solidify a line-up and go from there, as a band.
But with the pace I was going at back then, on top of general logistics and scheduling issues, it was tough to get recording sessions together when I wanted to. For a while I did end up having a few guests playing on various songs, just whoever was around at our house. My wife is on there.
I’m also pretty difficult to work with. The guys I play with live are old, old friends and just about the only people who will put up with me.
How would you describe your band’s sound in three words?
“Pop in hell”. Another: “Dear audiophiles: Sorry!”
As a band, I have your stuff filed under G, which puts you next to Guided By Voices. Was this deliberate on your part?
It was. Another huge influence on me was The Grifters. I used to go to the CD rack at the record stores where I dropped Man Pop and Electric Worrier off just so I could see it right in there next to those guys.
Of course, there are great similarities with your sound and the great lo-fi period GBV. What are your favourite songs of theirs?
“Dusted”, “Dayton, Ohio 19-something-and 5”, “He’s The Uncle”, “Drinker’s Peace”, “Unleashed! The Large-Hearted Boy”, “Wondering Boy Poet”. “I’m Cold” off the first Suitcase. Those impress me because I’ll never touch them. Those are the ones I wish I’d written.
I love “Subtle Gear Shifting” and “Systems Crash” off the Plantations Of Pale Pink EP. That’s an underrated EP. One of their best. Oh – “Trashed Aircraft” – I just thought of that one.
Another is “Echos Myron”. It’s not my favorite but it could be the greatest ever accomplishment in songwriting. I don’t even like to listen to it, it’s so well done.
You use Todd Tobias (a close collaborator of Robert Pollard’s) as mastering engineer. How did that come about? What does Todd bring to your recordings?
I had recorded all of Man Pop over the course of a few months and wanted Todd to mix the tapes for me. At that point, I had been in touch with Todd for a while asking for help with some stuff I was working on in the early 2000s (the production on Universal Truths and Cycles really impressed me and, before I went super lo-fi, that mid-fi zone he captured on there was where I wanted to be at that time) and he was always very open and helpful with advice. Still is.
Anyway, I switched to 4-track eventually, and I did so many idiosyncratic and not-very-smart things while recording Man Pop that I could really only mix the tracks myself, and Todd ended up doing the mastering afterwards. He helps a lot with getting the edits down and the songs to flow together, which has been a big focus on the last few albums and EPs especially.
You released your Cop Art LP on Big School Records run by Matthew Marcinowski. Did his being a GBV fan influence that decision? Are you planning more vinyl releases?
He’s also got the cassette label Hope For The Tape Deck on which I did Portable Grindhouse, easily my LEAST GbV-sounding album. As for vinyl, cassette seems more conducive for my set up right now. I was doing cassette releases early on, before I knew that it would become a hip thing, partly because I was a 4-track cassette guy, but also because I was shoving two EPs on each cassette and saving money with the self-releases. After this EP/single thing I’m doing next year, the next three albums are going to be on cassette again.
The 7” was on Big School, too. Knowing that he was so into GbV put a lot of pressure on me actually. He proposed the 7” release in July and I had nothing for him. I wrote and recorded it all within a month. But it was perfect the way it came together. Cop Art took longer and I was able to experiment more. By the way, we covered “Big School” at the Cop Art release show.
I love putting stuff out on vinyl. I usually start out an album with the intent that it will be on vinyl, from the track sequence / sides to the planning of the artwork with my friend Shawnelle. Often the direction he goes with the art will dictate how I finish the album. I’ll have Side A and maybe the closers of Side B all ready to go and then he’ll design the covers based on what he’s heard. And in turn I’ll look at his art for inspiration on where to go with the rest of the album so that it works with his art.
Your own label is called Shorter Recordings and some of your songs are, indeed, very short – War And Peace (I see what you did there!), for instance runs to just 19 seconds. What makes a good short song? What makes it a song not a fragment?
Short songs can pack more of a punch than long ones. You can have a nice little arc in the story with the short songs and then a really quick, potent epilogue. You don’t have the refrain to rely on to carry the song, so you’re working in a different format than usual, though you can and should always throw some hooks in there.
I do have lots of fragments, too. Those are the bridges between “real” songs, to help the flow of the album. Sometimes they get grafted on to the end of “real” songs in the mastering process, like at the end of “Funeral Games”. The original version of that on the EP doesn’t have the ambient outro.
I’ve been trying to best “War And Peace” – there’s a track on the upcoming EP that’s 16 seconds long. It’s a full song though. It goes through a whole story.
Also, I feel bad that you pointed out my horrible joke.
I now have 158 more of your songs than I did when the year started. Should I just start listening at Man Pop (your debut) and catch up chronologically?
That’s a good idea.
I move so quickly from album to album that I never really listen to them. I can’t really wrap my head around the chronology. I feel like it’d be really strange to hear “Slopping About” (the first song on the debut) next to “Young” (the last song on the upcoming EP), or even “In Waves” (the last song on the new album)
There are 42 songs on the next three albums – should I send those so you’ll have an even 200 to go through? [You’ll make his day if you do! – TTW Ed]
As such a prolific writer, are you at it all the time or do you write at specific times of day?
The best melodies seem to come at dawn or earlier. It’s quiet and I am fresh. Some verses or even full songs (“Octopus Bribes”, “Crying Machine Shakes The Moon”, “In Waves”) were in my head when I woke up and they were basically done right then and there, save for a few key lyrics that I needed to touch up.
But I also pick so many ideas up throughout the day from conversations and things like that. A lot of ideas for Portable Grindhouse came while I was sitting at a café working on something else, just listening for things or picking out various phrases from what I was reading.
The songs on the upcoming EP High On Mt. Misery came fully formed (aside from the tape experiments) while looking out over a cliff last summer.
Do you start with a title, a lyric or the music?
My favorite thing to do is start with a strong vocal melody. If I come back to it later and it still sounds interesting then I figure out the guitar stuff and punch it up with some changes, figure out the lyrics last.
All methods work in their own way though. If I sit down with a guitar and start off a song with some music, I can hammer out 5 to 10 songs in one sitting. Not all are any good, but that’s pretty fun to be able to go through those later.
I love coming up with titles, writing down random phrases, jokes, lines. I used to keep them in a big spiral notebook but I recently transferred them onto a spreadsheet. There are 3,300. I also have quite a few poems that I’ll morph into songs, usually a shorter snippet deal.
Which is your favourite album of yours? Why?
I’m most proud of the songs on Success Racist. It’s not just because it’s new and I’m supposed to be promoting it. I like a few songs on each of the earlier albums, too. I don’t listen to the albums much after they’re mastered. I don’t like to listen to myself. But I think a few songs from early on still stand strong with the new stuff.
The only album I’ve listened to a lot, just for fun, is the High On Mt. Misery EP, which hasn’t been released yet. It’s a bit of a departure and maybe for that reason it’s easier to pretend that it’s not me I’m listening to.
What does ‘Success Racist” mean?
I came up with it early on when all I had were “Octopus Bribes” and “In Waves” and then some basic sketches of another 20, 30 songs, and along the way it somehow stuck.
There’s actually a personal meaning to it – it’s not just some inane, dismissive title – related to something that was going on in my life when I started the recording sessions. I’ll leave it open for interpretation. It’s not as arch as it seems.
I just hope people don’t hate it too much. Hopefully they hate it just the right amount.
What is your favourite track on the album to play live?
“James Run” is fun to play live. I actually only played that song in full the night I recorded it. It was written very late in the game, at 2 AM, recorded quickly, and shoehorned onto the album, after it had been mastered in fact. Todd had to do a new version. Playing it live is cool because I’d only played it once before. It evolves a lot.
I have put together a playlist of my favourite songs of yours featuring the likes of My Color Is Red, Over The Shit Rainbow and Rip Van Winkle, but what do you think an introductory mix should open and close with?
To open, I would have gone with either “My Color Is Red” or “Over The Shit Rainbow”, but since you already mentioned them, how about “D-Beat At Dawn”? It encapsulates what I’m all about quite well, for better or worse.
Close with “In Waves”. I like that one.
Do you have any 3 dollar shirts? If so, are they really very popular?
I just realized that my wife threw out the shirt in question. I’ll have to find something else for the Rock Hall exhibit.
It was from a thrift store. Not a vintage clothing store or anything like that. It was probably 30 years old when I got it but in great condition. I wore it once to the office because it was the only thing clean and got a lot of compliments. It was the only shirt that people ever mentioned.
You have a great song called Dad Talks About Alan Parsons – are you a fan of ‘the Project’? How do you feel about prog rock?
I love the idea of prog and have a lot of fun incorporating certain elements of it into my albums, but I’m not necessarily an expert on the genre in any way. I inherited some of my dad’s old albums and enjoy some more than others. I love In the Court Of The Crimson King and early Yes and stuff like that but also more crossover, poppy, psychedelic stuff like The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway or In Search of The Lost Chord.
This is another title that seems to evoke a lot of different feelings for people. The song and title are fairly literal here but I guess you can derive any meaning from it that you want. Todd thought my dad was mocking my production style for not being more like The Dark Side Of The Moon.
I really like the song At The Pain Olympics, which features the line ‘pound it out and nobody comes’ – does this deliberately echo the line in Pollard’s My Impression Now “jump off ’cause nobody cares”?
Apart from GBV, who else has influenced you musically?
Bruce Springsteen, Greg Sage, The Minutemen, Bob Mould, Pet Shop Boys, J Mascis, Polvo, Archers of Loaf, Silkworm
Recently, the only albums I listened to for nearly two years were Lysol by The Melvins and Torch Of The Mystics by Sun City Girls, and I think that’s had some influence as well.
What are the more obscure instruments you have used on any of your songs?
Creaky door, stuffed toy frog, breast pump
Which other current bands should we be listening to but probably aren’t?
I like this lo-fi experimental band Shivering Window – they’re on Rok Lok Records, the label that just put Success Racist out on cassette. They do a lot of interesting things, and have good tunes.
There’s this complete psychopath Filthy Turd that was putting out some great stuff last year. Hope he’s still at it. [Googling this artist was not a pleasant experience. – TTW Ed.]
Last week I couldn’t stop listening to a song called “No Cabana” by The Big City Nights Band. They’re in Canada and are unrelated to The Scorpions.
If you could have been in any band in history, which band would you have wanted to be in and why?
Butthole Surfers seemed like a lot of fun.
As an American you may not be overly familiar with the sport of cricket, but I still have to ask you – is it any good or a load of old bollocks?
What I’ve seen looks at least as exciting as baseball. I’m more into the stats. Is there a big sabremetrics community in cricket? I haven’t watched a baseball game since maybe 2008, but I still check all the stats on fangraphs.com a few times a week.
I tried to look up cricket stats just now and there are definitely sabremetrics. I don’t know what any of it means but I like to see all of the advanced stats. Are most cricket fans into stats? American fans tend to be skeptical of anything that feels like it involves math or intelligence.
On safer ground perhaps – what the fuck has happened to the Cincinnati Reds this season? Do you care?
The injuries up the middle have cost them at least a few wins – it’s hard to replace your shortstop, catcher, and centerfielder with fill-ins and actually get something out of it.
Another traditional question, that I have to ask you is this: you’re in a caff (diner) ordering breakfast. You can have toast and your choice of tea or coffee and then you’re allowed 4 more items. What are they?
Four more coffees. Who can sleep?
What are you repulsed by?
Recording studios, George Zimmerman, apples
Talking of which, you told me you had listened to our podcast before I got in touch with you. How did you hear about us?
It might have been some sort of combination of Bruce, Pollard, and John Peel that drew me into the site in the first place. XTC and the Fall are big influences as well. Wedding Present. Beefheart. All huge presences both on your site and in my music. And I recall feeling very at home when I saw two of my other top 10 bands – REM and Cheap Trick – in your personal top 5. It was definitely interesting to see the distinct mix of stuff that you all wrote about and played. [Interestingly enough, if Kicker filed Graham Repulski under ‘R’, they’d be next to REM. Cool, eh? – TTW Ed]
I also enjoyed the post on Pollard’s solo stuff. I lost track of all that when I started doing Graham Repulski and really enjoyed your top 50 list a couple years ago. Got me back on board.
When can our listeners expect to see you playing in the UK?
When the next tape goes platinum.
You very kindly sent me tracks from a future release – High On Mt Misery EP – can you tell us when that will be released and about about any future projects you’re involved in?
That will be out next spring. It’s short and sort of louder than usual. Then there’s a trilogy of cassettes coming out the following winter – Re-Arranged At Hotel Strange, Contaminated Man, and Boy Lung. There are two or three concept albums I’m in the process of mapping out, based on some poems of mine that I discovered and also based on Shawnelle’s art.
I’m also doing at least three but possibly five additional secret projects that will not bear the Graham Repulski name in any shape or form. One of those is almost done.
Thanks so much for talking to us. What are you going to do right now?
I’m going to not sleep.
Many thanks to Graham for taking time out to share an insight into his craft and for tolerating Chorizo Garbanzo’s breakfast question.
You can fulfil all your Graham Repulski based needs by visiting this bandcamp page – go and buy a tape or two and make at least one go platinum.
3xcellent interview of an important and tálented artist! Good job.
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