Tony Slug interview in I-94bar

Hydromatics Press

The following interview was conducted by rockscribe extraordinaire and allround swell guy Ken Shimamoto ca. 2000 by mail for I-94 BAR, and is reproduced here for archiving reasons.

One of the rockingest platters I’ve heard this year, the Hydromatics’ Parts Unknown combines the talents of Motor City R&B/garage/punk godfather Scott Morgan with three European disciples: Nicke Hellacopter and the Nitwitz’ Theo Brouwer and Tony Slug. Tony joined me over a virtual brew from his home in Amsterdam on October 16.
Tony Slug

K: Scott Morgan played me the rough mix of the Hydromatics album at SXSW in Austin last March. I remember thinking, “Who woulda thought the spirit of Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith would make its way across the Atlantic to the Netherlands?” The Rock works in mysterious ways.

T: Well, man, that’s a very big compliment. I WISH I could get those leads to fucking FLOW like Fred did. I think I got about a third down (at most), but y’know, I’m working on it.
Really, Fred’s style of playing influenced me more than anything, ever since I was a teenager. (Of course, he got it from Chuck Berry.) I would listen to the Five over and over again. In the early punk days (late ’70s), everyone was into these crappy English bands and I was just like, “No, no, that’s not right, listen to THIS” and everyone thought it was a big bunch of noise. Or they’d call it “hippie shit.” Then with my old band, Loveslug, we’d do like four MC5 covers live, and no one had a clue.

Thankfully, people are picking up on this stuff right now. I hope Scott gets some well-deserved credits at last with the Hydromatics. We’re having a great time jamming together, and it’s fucking awesome to play those SRB tunes live.

K: One thing I like about your approach guitar-wise is that you take what Fred did as a starting point, but you add your own slant as well. Being YOURSELF and using what you’ve learned as a springboard to your own expression is a big part of what Fred was about, I think.

T: That’s absolutely right. There’s so many kids out there who try to perfectly clone, say, Steve Vai or Hendrix, and even when they do master it, it has no soul or balls for that matter. Personally, I feel Chuck Berry is the originator.

K: Yeah, Chuck probably IS the man for rock guys. There’s a line that runs from him through Keith Richard to Fred and Wayne Kramer and Johnny Thunders, on down the line. It IS folk music, after all.

T: I read ya loud and clear. Chuck himself stole a bunch of stuff, too, of course. But I also really like his calypso-ish stuff, for instance on Bio. Great album! [If you listen hard, you can hear some of this influence in Tony’s playing on Parts Unknown. No fooling!]

K: Scott’s girlfriend Maureen Ferrell tells me there’s a possibility the Hydromatics will be playing at SXSW next spring. Sure hope so.

T: Cool, man, I can’t wait. It depends on a lot of things. It’s been like 15 years since I played there last, with the Big Boys and Minutemen.

K: I played once with Tim from the Big Boys before they were a band. I remember Biscuit used to pin Purina Dog Chow bags to his clothes as part of his stage getup.

T: Funny. How about the Dicks? They used to play a whole lot together. Originally MDC were from Texas, as were the great Offenders. Their bassplayer was this long haired, half-Mexican, half-Japanese guy called Mikey and he was incredible. Then two years later (1986), he moved to San Francisco and started doing smack. Duh. I played with all those bands in the early ’80s. We actually did a show in Odessa, Texas, if you can believe that.

K: I was stationed in Abilene in the Air Force. Midland and Odessa seemed like places you didn’t want to break down. Real “Bad Day At Black Rock” scenes.

T: I’ll say, dammit. We played with this band called Research and apparently they had been frying in the Texas sun too much. I remember they had songs with titles like “Cows Eating Dolphins” and stuff like that. The dude told me he at one point wore a skinny necktie for ONE DAY, and he had guns pulled on him SIX times that day. So, you know, that kinda explains why there were no pink Mohawks in Odessa. Also, the accents were so thick that I couldn’t understand a word.

K: How’d European post-punk go over in West Texas?

T: Well, we weren’t post-punk but more like full-on super thrash. We did a few shows with the Dead Kennedys, including one in Dallas at the Republican Convention. Big riots.
Hydromatics 1999

K: Big Al Creed from the New Christs had some really good things to say about the Hydromatics…as if we didn’t know!

T: That’s great! I’m a big fan of the New Christs myself. Especially their 45s I like a lot.

K: So, how did the Hydromatics project come about?

T: Well, whew. Long story…Nicke and myself had wanted to do a side project thing for many years. We planned to record a heap of SRB tunes (or at least steal a bunch of their riffs, hee hee). But with the ‘Copters being on tour all the time, we had to put this project on hold for a while. Then I hooked them up with Scott and so it happened that Scott ended up playing live with the ‘copters and recording some tunes with them, which is very cool. Then Scott seemed really interested in participating in the side project thing with Nicke and me, so we could get to work.

K: Talk a bit about the recording of your album in Amsterdam last February.

T: It was real fun. Nicke hadn’t played the drums really since he quit the Entombed, and he is just incredible. Great drummer. Of course we had all prepared ourselves, so we wouldn’t be going “duh” in the studio not knowing what to play. We had exchanged tapes with ideas for songs through the mail. But seeing as how the four of us never had never all gotten together, I think we did a good job with the album. I mean, some members of the band only met each other six days prior to recording it! Of course, playing with Scott is a real pleasure, too.

We rehearsed for three days to get a live set going, and wrote the orginals on the album in the next three days. Then we played three live shows, which included a BAD ASS version of “City Slang” I might add. Scott and me were on our knees and rolling on the stage in the end part, the whole nine yards. So that was helluva lot of fun. I mean, the guy is 50-years-old mind you, and he’s still got it!

K: Who are the Hectic Horns [who appear on the album]?

T: They are this horn section that was rehearsing next door to our recording studio. They do some work with the studio engineer’s blues band, Dripping Honey. Scott went up to them and asked if they wanted to help out and they did, quite nicely I might add.

K: Any plans for an American or Australian release?

T: I wish! Looks like a well-known label is gonna do it in the States, from what I hear. At this point nothing is confirmed, however.

K: You’ve got a pretty extensive tour of Europe coming up. How’d you pick the cities/venues to play?

T: Basically it’s the Hellacopters tour, then Nicke figured we might as well be on it, so we said yes. But we needed a second band in between and this is where Zen Guerilla comes in.

K: How’s Nicke feel about playing twice a night [on drums with the Hydromatics and gtr/vox with the Hellacopters]

T: Man, the guy is unstoppable! The ‘copters just came back from Japan and after one day their Scandinavian tour started. We cancelled that leg, to make it a little easier on him. At any rate, he told me he has no difficulties doing two sets a night, as long as he can rest for an hour in beween.Rock ‘n’ roll is top athletic, I tell ya. But he’s like 10 years younger than me.

K: Any tour plans for the Hydromatics in the States or Australia?

T: No concrete plans at this point, but we’re definitely up for it. We’d LOVE to go to Australia.

K: Any plans for further Hydromatics recordings?

T: Basically yes, but you can imagine this depends on many factors, foremostly the relentless touring schedule of the Hellacopters. We’re thinking about possibly doing a next album next spring.

K: You and Theo also play together in the Nitwitz. Can we get some background on that band for fans who might not be familiar with your work?

T: Well, the Nitwitz started in 1978, and were like the first Dutch punk band to emphasize playing really fast. Then we turned into B.G.K. ca.1982, whose entire back catalogue has just been re-released on Alternative Tentacles, by the way. This is like full-on hardcore thrash. B.G.K. toured the States twice and all over Europe half a dozen times. After that, I was in Loveslug until 1993 or so. Consequently, I did a gruelling tour with Sonny Vincent and Spencer P. Jones from the Beasts Of Bourbon in 1995.

Then in 1996, there was a book coming out on Dutch punk 1976-1982, and I’m all over it, so the guys who did it asked us to do a reunion show for the publishing party. After some persuasion, we did and rocked the hell out of these nostalgic old punks in their mid-30s! Next, Epitaph slapped us with some dough to do a demo, and record some new stuff. But they weren’t happy with it; I mean, we’re not exactly marketable to the walletchain and skateboard crowd or nothing, or possibly the album title (Dark Side Of The Spoon) didn’t go down too well with the Epitaph label boss [Brett Gurewitz], who was in rehab kicking heroin, hee hee. So Get Hip picked it up, and those dicks Ministry stole our album title. Now there’s been more personnel changes and I am the only original remnant

K: Who’s this Sonny Vincent guy?

T: Sonny was in this band called the Testors in NYC in 1977, who useta play with the Dead Boys a lot. Then he played with Moe Tucker and has his other band, Shotgun Rationale, which sort of has different line-ups all the time, including members of the Dead Boys, Plasmatics, Replacements, Tank, Beasts Of Bourbon, Velvet Underground, Husker Du. All kinds of people, depending on where Sonny lives at the moment and who he can talk into it, I guess.

K: I know Scott Asheton did a record and tour with him.

T: Yep, Steve Baise from the Devil Dogs was in that line-up too.

K What music have you been listening to lately? Anything new/cool that I-94 patrons might not be familiar with?

T: Well, not much, actually. The only thing that cuts it for me is a personal approach, so I go out and support my friends’ bands, and whatever people send me in the mail. I don’t read music magazines or anything, really, to find out about stuff. Just see bands live. Once in a while you see some really cool shit. Turbonegro were fucking incredible, both live and on record. I’ve supported the ‘Copters since they opened playing for 12 people and stuff. Just saw The Donnas the other night, who were all right, but nothing spectacular. A little too L.A. for me. There’s a German band I like a lot, the Cellophane Suckers. Those guys fuckin’ jam!

K: Last and most importantly, since we’re in a bar — what do you like to drink?

T: Chilled Grolsch lager. Not the fake Grolsch you can get in the States but the real Dutch kind. I live on that shit. American beer sucks ass. And I’m quite partial to the occasional tequila (straight), or vodka on the rocks.