|the faces of Sam McPheeters|
When I lived in Olympia from 1997-2001, all my friends were so excited when Men's Recovery Project (one of McPheeters' bands) came to town. Born Against, his earlier band, was really beloved, but I didn't know about them at the time, so I was unprepared for the audience fervor at the Men's Recovery Project show, one of their shows where Sam dressed up as Patrick Henry and recited the entire "Give Me Liberty" speech, which I thought was a trademark of his but as you will read, was more of a passing fancy. The thing of it is, me and my friend stood out in the audience because we were standing on a table to see better, so he ended up singling us out to recite part of the speech to, like "It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace-- but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!", right in our faces, gesticulating and being weird for the pleasure of all, except me, because it was discomfiting to just stand there not knowing what to do with my eyes or my hands etc while this avant-garde historical re-enactor used me and my friend as props (she was totally thrilled, though). So, while it was a great show with an amazing energy and indescribably weird songs, and the Patrick Henry thing was kind of funny, it was an embarrassing night for me.
Cut to my post-Olympia life, 2002 to the present, in which 1) I slowly outgrew the reflex of embarrassment, and 2) I became much more familiar with Sam's body of work, and am a fan. I just thought to myself the other day, "Hey, Sam seems like a nice guy, I'm besties with one of his friends, and Facebook friends with his wife, and I think he would grant me an interview," so I asked, and he did. Here it is.
1. Is there any “ism” that informs your work, or your personality? Like Situationism? Existentialism?
Not in my work. In my life, I’d like to be known for my professionalism. But I’ve burned up so much lifespan being wildly unprofessional that I don’t know if I can recover. It’s a bummer.
2. I know writing the liner notes for the criterion collection reissue of Repo Man is huge for you. What’s been another career highlight that you’re intensely proud of? What about a serious low point?
In 2007, I wrote a profile on the former singer of the Crucifucks that will probably stand as the best piece of nonfiction I’ll ever write. The story was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it came at a point in my life when I could devote serious time to it.
There have been a lot of career low points, many of which seem to have escaped the Internet’s attention. So I should pass on that question. Plead the 5th? I’d like to plead the 5th on that question.
3. What is your favorite novel? Song? Movie?
Novel: “World War Z” by Max Brooks. I know; what adult gives an ass about zombie novels? But Brooks simply goes farther than anyone else. His breadth and depth are staggering, and he remakes a tedious horror concept into something poignant, suspenseful, heartbreaking, and, at times, deeply terrifying. I can re-read certain passages of that book and get teary-eyed with pride that I’m a human being. That seems like an accomplishment for any writer, in any genre.
This selection comes with an asterisk, since I don’t yet consider myself well read. I made a huge list of classics to read in my thirties. Three years ago it turned into a list of classics to read in my forties. You get the picture.
Song: “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin. And I fucking hate Led Zeppelin. That’s how good a song that is.
Movie: “The Shining”. But this is everyone’s favorite, right? Like, by law?
I’m not happy with how these answers make me seem like a really boring person. If I saw these three selections on my own eHarmony profile, I wouldn’t date myself. Let’s move on.
4. With novel-writing, what is your writing process? Do you write every day or only when you’re inspired?
I write every day, although sometimes I’m on deadline for a freelance piece and don’t have time to work on fiction. I like writing in the morning, when it’s possible. I never write after midnight unless it’s a serious deadline scenario.
I wanted to write novels before I could write. I’m still surprised at how little “inspiration” factors into the process. If I get a good idea, I make sure to write it down or email it to myself, but that’s about it for light-bulb-over-the-head moments. Writing a novel is like buying a huge piece of furniture at Ikea. You spend months or years putting the thing together. One day you’re done. It doesn’t get much more magical than that. At least that’s how it is for me.
5. Are you still in touch with the other members of Born Against?
Most of them. There were a lot. The band had a rotating rhythm section, so Adam (the guitarist and co-founder) and I are the executors of the group’s estate. We talk a few times a year, at least once a year about any outstanding BA matters. I’m relieved that we share a distaste for the standard posthumous punk band opportunities: merch, reissues, reunions. After the current pressings of CDs and vinyl go out of print, Born Against’s releases will be iTunes only. We both like that idea.
If hundreds of thousands of dollars were at stake, I’d be forced to reconsider these matters. It would be irresponsible not to. But Born Against has the luxury of not having been immensely popular. I have friends who’ve been compelled—by the unyielding pressures of capitalism—into dusting off their old bands and remarketing their former selves. I’m grateful we’re not in that position.
6. What is your fascination with Patrick Henry? Is it like an inside joke, or a genuine interest?
Not really either. It (his speech) was just a thing I did on one tour, 15 years ago. I guess that would be what a PR person would call an idea that “sticks to the wall”. I’ve done many things over the years that did not stick to the wall. So many.
7. While bored once at work, I looked up the property records of whatever celebrities popped into my head, and ended up discovering that Glenn Danzig lives in a house near a golf course in Cheviot Hills or someplace nice like that. When you interviewed him for Vice, did you meet at his house, and if so, was it all satanic, or was it all nice, like exposed ceiling beams and classy yuppie stuff? OR similarly, if you met him somewhere else for the interview, was he all satanic-acting , or straight-laced?
He owned the house, but it wasn’t his residence. We met in the back, in a building used for his office. There was 0% weirdness in the decor. He’s older than me, so I sort of got Dad Vibe throughout the interview. The only other weird parts to the whole experience were 1) when the publicist insisted I not ask about the YouTube punch out incident, and 2) when I tried to ask questions about the house itself. Otherwise, it could have been a polite discussion with a cashier at Jiffy Lube. But I’m not sure which of us would own the car in that analogy.
8. Any collaborations with Joe Preston in the works?
I have an official Joe Preston shirt going up on my online store in a week. See photo. Good times.
9. Was it Amps for Christ and Man is the Bastard that got you interested in moving to the sleepy community of Claremont? Being from L.A., everyone I knew who lived in Claremont, growing up, did so because their parents were professors at one of the colleges there.
My future wife is from the east end of LA County, so I moved here for her. I mean, we were dating at the time. I didn’t move here to stalk her. I knew about Claremont from MITB, but I actually live one town over, in Pomona. And I’d come here a lot as a kid, when my grandparents lived here.
Old town Claremont—The Village—is a nice resource. I like getting my mail at a place that’s not in a strip mall.
10. Where is your favorite place you’ve ever lived?
Place meaning house: where I live now, in Pomona. Place, meaning region, would be New York City. I don’t know why. It was gross, and dangerous, and expensive, and many people stomped on my heart, repeatedly, until it was a dirty little ball of street hamburger.
Wait, can I change my answer?
11. Some artists hate t.v. because it’s the opium for the masses or whatever and some like t.v. because it connects them in some way with the rest of society. Where do you land in this debate?
I don’t look down on TV, I just have less and less room for it in my life. My wife and I have been watching “Boardwalk Empire” and I’m always the spoilsport who refuses to do more than one episode a night. I just don’t have time for more than that. Which is a shame, because it’s a fun show. Who doesn’t like seeing Omar Little in a Pee Wee Herman suit??
12. Do you have any upcoming projects you want to describe?
Short term: The Joe Preston shirt. Long term: Schemes. Books? Beard. Maybe a pipe. Hang gliding. Success. Power. Flying stretch Bentley. Expensive toupee. All my loved ones gathered in a room saying, “we miss the old Sam”. Hang gliding away from that room. Victory.